Nearly five years after a workplace smoking cigarettes ban took effect in Hawaii, there is still no specific plan in place to enforce it. The ban had a long, slow road to reality, since it took almost four years to put together the administrative rules for the smoking cigarettes law.

The workplace smoking cigarettes ban took effect in mid-November 2006, prohibiting smoking cigarettes in offices, restaurants and bars across the state. Smoking is also banned within 20 feet of building doorways and open windows.

"It was really meant to be a self-enforcing, self-policing kind of law," said Julian Lipsher, program manager of online cigarettes prevention and education for the state Department of Health.

After the ban took effect five years ago, the Health Department had to develop rules and regulations for the new law, working with lawyers at the state attorney general's office to do so. State health officials said rule making usually takes two years, but this process took nearly four years.

The health department held public hearings across the state and appeared three times before the state's Small Business Regulatory Review Board, which Lipsher said didn't like the new regulations.

Lipsher said health officials had to repeatedly meet with the board, "To provide clarification of what the law was about, and to provide explanation and development of rules and how they would affect small business."

Former Gov. Linda Lingle, a Republican, signed the rules last August and they finally took effect Sept. 6, 2010, nearly four years after the smoking cigarettes restrictions became law. Lingle was lobbied heavily by business leaders not to sign the law, according to opponents of the restrictions.

State health officials said most businesses follow the law, but according to complaints they’ve received, there are roughly 20 bars violating the smoking cigarettes restrictions.

One of them is O'Toole's Irish Pub downtown, which allows patrons to smoke. It follows the letter of the law, posting no smoking cigarettes signs and telling customers about the law, but allowing them to continue smoking cigarettes.

Its owner, Bill Comerford, has fought the rules, saying they're unfair because bar owners could be cited even if their customers are outside their bars, but smoking cigarettes too close to the doorways.

"That's the equivalent of somebody out on the street parking incorrectly, and coming to my bar. I'm in violation," Comerford, who owns four bars on Oahu and heads the Hawaii Bar Owners’ Association.

"The department is aware of those few businesses that are not in compliance. We are working with local law enforcement on the compliance issue," said Lipsher.

But there's still no specific agreement with the Honolulu Police Department to enforce the law, more than a year after the governor approved the smoking cigarettes law rules. Lipsher said he hopes to reach an enforcement agreement with HPD “soon,” but wouldn’t specify when.

Lipsher said the health department has been sending violators certified letters, but has not issued fines allowed under the law. Individuals can face $50 fines, and businesses that allow smokers face an escalating scale of fines, going from $100 to $200 to $500, depending on how many previous violations they’ve had.

"It's been really frustrating,” said Deborah Zysman, executive director of a Coalition for a Tobacco-Free Hawaii, referring to the four-year rule-making process for the smoking cigarettes law. “This is just an example of some of the bureaucracy that we see sometimes."

The new rules allow law enforcement officers, including county police or state sheriff's deputies, to enforce the smoking cigarettes prohibitions. In the five years since the smoking cigarettes law took effect, Honolulu police officers have cited only a few violators.

The new rules also allow the health department to appoint one or more inspectors to enforce the smoking cigarettes law, with the authority to serve and execute warrants, notices, citations or summons. But the health department has not hired any inspectors.

"I do think in our state that it should be the health department that can go out if there's complaints that are noted, that they should have inspectors and they should go out and issue citations," said Zysman, noting the health department already has inspectors who inspect, educate and cite restaurants and their employees for health violations. Other health inspectors check on swimming pools, tattoo parlors and other establishments.

Asked why the state health department hasn't appointed smoking cigarettes law inspectors, Lipsher said, "Because we feel that we can get the strongest possible enforcement through working with the local police and law enforcement agencies."

The new rules allow the health department to revoke a health permit for anyone who owns, manages or operates an establishment that violates the smoking cigarettes ban at least three times within a two-year period. That would effectively shut down a restaurant or bar.

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