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Consider it an April Fool's joke on the anti-smoking zealots.

Contrary to public opinion, the city's new smoking ban that takes effect today exempts six facilities, including Memorial Auditorium and the former Pilot Field.

That's not the message that Sabres and Blizzard fans have been getting recently. Thousands of them have read a message on the Aud message board that smoking would be prohibited throughout the building starting today.

Sorry, non-smokers, it's just not true.

The new city smoking ban does take effect today, banning smoking in any city building or any vehicle owned or leased by the city. That means that City Hall, Police Headquarters, City Court, even city garbage trucks should be smoke-free.

However, the Common Council on March 21 passed an amendment to the smoking ban, delaying its effective date until next Jan. 1 at six city-owned facilities: Memorial Auditorium, the former Pilot Field, Kleinhans Music Hall, the Delaware Park Marcy Casino, Lafayette Ice Rink and Shea's Performing Arts Center.

The reason: certain facilities in those buildings, such as the Aud Club and Pettibones, are host to private parties and weddings that have been booked for up to a year in advance, before the city ordinance was passed in January.

So the Council agreed to delay the ban at those six facilities until next Jan. 1.

That will come as a surprise to many fans at the Aud, where the message was pulled after Tuesday night's Sabres game.

"The last I heard, the ban was on for April 1," Blizzard fan John Lang, 48, of Pendleton said, puffing on a Marlboro in a designated smoking area during Friday night's game. "As of April 1, I won't come down here again."

At halftime, Jack Coppola, 42, of North Buffalo had to walk through one of the designated smoking areas, with his two children, a niece and a nephew.

"I think the ban is great," he said. "Why penalize the non-smokers?"

While the ban has been delayed at the six sites, at least one Common Council member may be seeking more than a nine-month reprieve in places like the Aud, the baseball park and Kleinhans.

Council Member at Large Rosemarie LoTempio, who sponsored the amendment exempting the six buildings, fears that a total smoking ban could turn away some Bisons and Sabres fans. And when those franchises lose any gate receipts, the loss also cuts into city revenue.

"If I sit down with the Bisons and they show us there is a loss of revenue and it's costing the city money, I think I would be willing to bring the issue to the Council," said Mrs. LoTempio, a longtime smoker herself.

Mrs. LoTempio was talking about fans like Lang, who wore an autographed Blizzard sweat shirt and a reindeer hat Friday night.

"If they're going to put a smoking ban on the whole building, that's the end of me coming to the Aud, Pilot Field or any sporting event," he said.

Self-imposed restrictions at both the Aud and the former Pilot Field already prevent fans from smoking in their seats and limit smoking to designated areas, smokers' rights advocates point out.

The delays in the smoking ban at the six facilities won't make things any easier for employees who smoke in places like City Hall, starting today.

"I'm sure that I'm going to have to go outside and stand with every other worker who's smoking," Mrs. LoTempio said.

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