Smoke shop in bar may not fly

TOPEKA — A Topeka businessman believes he has found a loophole that will allow people to smoke in his wife's bar without violating the city's ban on smoking in public places.

But the city's attorney says using duct tape on the floor of Hot Pockets Billiards and Sports Bar to mark off a 10-foot-by-10-foot area where Jim Suwalski operates a tobacco shop doesn't qualify for the exemption.

Topeka's clean-air ordinance went into effect Dec. 4, with exceptions allowed for a limited number of public places, including retail tobacco stores.

Suwalski obtained a retail license to operate a tobacco shop, which he located inside the bar owned by his wife, Sharon. Despite the stand taken by the city, he is adamant that he is not violating the smoking ban ordinance.

"It states in no uncertain terms that tobacco stores are exempt," he said.

Police spokeswoman Kristen Veverka said this week that the Suwalskis will be notified they are in violation, and police will take action to enforce the law if necessary.

Jim Suwalski said he encourages police to give him a citation.

"Please come write me up," he said. "I want to get this in court. I don't believe it's legal."

Suwalski said that while his tobacco shop has no walls, its boundaries are marked by duct tape on the floor.

Veverka acknowledged the ordinance allows exceptions for tobacco shops, but it doesn't allow smoke from the shops to contaminate other public businesses.

"It is the opinion of the city attorney's office that the bar owner's creative attempt to circumvent the council's clear intent by the use of duct tape and declaring a part of the bar to be a tobacco store violates the ordinance as it also interferes with the rights of nonsmokers, patrons and employees to breathe smoke-free air," she said.

The fine for a business that fails to enforce the city ordinance is $100 for the first offense, $250 for a second offense and $500 per violation for a third or subsequent violations.