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Last Updated: Friday, 11 July, 2003, 09:17 GMT 10:17 UK
As the smoke clears
By Rachel Clarke
BBC News Online, Washington

Cities and states across the US are considering - or enforcing - bans on smoking, and similar measures are now being urged in England.

Nancy and Desmond Wingate smoking outside Breakers bar in Delaware
Forced out: Desmond and Nancy Wingate must leave a bar to smoke
But while officials laud the potential health benefits of smoking bans, smokers say they have become victims of a new form of discrimination.

Smoke-filled bars are a thing of the past in the eastern US state of Delaware, where patrons who fancy a smoke must now leave their drinks inside - alcohol cannot be drunk on the street - and go outside to light up.

And that is destroying business, according to bar managers such as Desiree Mulford.

She says between 50% and 70% of her business at the Breakers tavern in Newark, Delaware, disappeared as soon as the ban came in last November.

Breakers bar manager Desiree Mulford
They are going to protect me into bankruptcy
Desiree Mulford
The logic for her is simple: "The majority of people who go to sit in a bar are people who smoke."

And when they drift away, the non-smokers go too, following the crowd and their friends, she says.

Breakers started off defying the law and received $100 and $250 penalties. "That's nothing compared to the money I made," Ms Mulford says, but further infractions could have threatened her liquor licence.

She is a non-smoker, but rejects the public health argument saying that she, her bar staff and her patrons are all over 21 and have all chosen to go to a bar. "They are going to protect me into bankruptcy."

Cross-border smokers

Now Breakers' lunchtime crowd has gone. The only two customers on a Wednesday make periodic trips outside to light up.

Desmond Wingate's assessment of the rules is blunt: "It's a pain in the ass."

His wife, Nancy, says she believes it should be up to the bar owner whether or not to allow smoking. With the blanket ban, the couple often crosses into the state of Maryland where they can smoke inside.

Bars across Delaware's state lines know this and advertise "smokers welcome". "They don't have to do anything but say 'Come in the door and light up'," Ms Mulford complains.

She does not know if the bar she built up through years of dedication and hard work will survive. And she is not even sure she wants to be a success in Delaware any more.

Frank Infante blames Governor Ruth Ann Minner and her supporters for harming his business, but he says he will fight to the end.

Bulldozers owner Frank Infante with a herbal cigarette
People come here for simple reasons - smoking cigarettes, having a drink and picking up someone for the night
Frank Infante
He is challenging three fines levied on his Bull Dozers bar in Smyrna which is adorned with many "Ban Ruth Ann" stickers, though there are also leaflets on how to quit.

"People come here for simple reasons - smoking cigarettes, having a drink and picking someone up for the night," he says.

He sells tobacco-free herbal cigarettes - not covered under the law - and says he assumes that every time someone lights up, they are merely consuming one of these, not smoking tobacco.

Bull Dozers bartender Abby Argoe is angry that her tips have dropped from around $200 a night to just $23 last Tuesday.

But she is also concerned that she is the one supposed to enforce the ban, especially after the death of New York bouncer Dana Blake, stabbed to death trying to implement the city's no-smoking law in April.

'Popular' ban

Mr Infante is planning to stand for a public office - he will not say yet if it is Ruth Ann Minner's governorship he is after - and he and Ms Mulford agree that there needs to be a change of political leadership before the smoking ban issue will be reconsidered.

[After a night out before the ban] I would take my clothes off and hang them in the garage and take a shower
Pam Scotti
But one of the state senators who proposed the ban, David McBride, says there is no need for change.

The goal of the law was to protect employees but he added that independent polls show 70% of Delaware residents are also in favour.

Senator McBride says businesses will recover and he rejects claims that the law unfairly discriminates against smokers. "I support smoking. If they want to kill themselves, that's their business. But I'm saying, don't take me with you."

At Big City Sandwiches in Newark a customer, Pam Scotti, admits she only goes to bars occasionally, but welcomes the clean air she can now find.

In the old smoky days, a night out would end with a ritual to get rid of the smell. "I would take my clothes off and hang them in the garage and take a shower," she said. "It's nicer now."

Behind the counter Alvaro Ayala, an ex-smoker, says he is also a fan of the ban, though he finds it slightly ridiculous that barflies have to nip outside for a smoke.

Maryland action

The controversy in Delaware and elsewhere appears to be doing little to stem the tide of anti-smoking legislation.

Maryland's Montgomery County, just outside Washington DC, enacted its own smoking ban earlier this month.

Councilman Tom Perez, one of the new law's supporters, says it is primarily a public health issue - to give the same workplace conditions for bar and restaurant staff as are in place at every other business in the county as well as protecting patrons.

"But if the effect of the bill is for less smoking, I'm not going to shed tears about that."

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