At least one struggling bar here has installed surveillance cameras to try to enforce the state smoking ban.
Scott Webber, whose wife, Carrie, is the owner of Ryan's on Oliver Street, said many bars have security cameras to try to deter theft or fighting.
However, according to a report on a smoking fine hearing conducted Sept. 21 by County Public Health Director Paulette M. Kline, Ryan's has another use for them.
"The owner gave testimony that they do not permit smoking and some of their bartenders have allowed it, and they have now resorted to using cameras to watch their employees to determine any smoking violations," the report said.
"I would say 50 percent of the bars have cameras in them," Webber said last week. "You can see the globes and what have you, if you know what to look for."
He said the smoking law has been tough on Ryan's.
"We had to fire one girl because she wouldn't enforce the rules," Webber said. "Another girl quit because she wasn't making any money. These employees smoke themselves."
Ryan's was called on the carpet after two Health Department inspectors found a customer smoking with no effort made by employees to prevent it.
Kline ordered a $500 fine against the bar but recommended it be waived if Ryan's has no further violations for six months and makes a good-faith effort to obtain a waiver from the smoking ban.
The Board of Health accepted Kline's suggestion, but Webber said he's not going to apply for the waiver.
"They want too much information from me," he said. "Frankly, I don't have the money."
Ryan's has two rooms, and a waiver requires a separate smoking room, fully enclosed, with its own ventilation system. Also, employees aren't allowed to serve in that room.
"You can't police the joint. You can't clean it. You don't know what they're doing in there," said Webber.
He said the smoking ban, which took effect in July 2003, has crippled his business, which has three employees.
"Business was down 40 percent when it first went in," he said. "We've been losing money for months." He said the business is borrowing to stay afloat.
Webber said he hopes the law is repealed or modified, but he admitted it doesn't look like that will happen soon. "Our hopes are fading," he said.
The Board of Health also approved two waivers from the law, for the Buff Social Club on Young Street in the Town of Niagara and Culbert's Hotel on Buffalo Avenue in Niagara Falls.
The Buff Social Club will install a ventilation system in an old storeroom to create a smoking room, while Culbert's, which has been hit with a pair of $250 fines, will place an exhaust fan in one of its rooms.