from Associated Press reports

With jeers and catcalls, many Californians kept right on puffing early Thursday as the new year and a new ban on smoking in bars arrived together. “It doesn’t make me angry that I can’t smoke. What makes me angry is that the government can dictate to a restaurant owner what they can and can’t do,” said Cathy Cawley, who rang in 1998 with a long drag on a cigarette while partying at Barney’s Beanery in West Hollywood.

The law prohibiting smoking in bars gives California the nation’s strictest no-smoking rules. But it got little respect when it went into effect at midnight. As waitresses confiscated ashtrays, many smokers went right on smoking. At San Francisco’s Cafe DuNord, Granger Davis and Peter Rossi were smoking at 1 a.m. Each had a different reason for breaking the law. “Because I’m drunk,” Davis said. “Because addiction doesn’t stop at midnight,” put in Rossi. California banned smoking in restaurants and most other indoor workplaces in 1995. The law is aimed at protecting employees from secondhand smoke, which has been linked to lung cancer, respiratory problems and other illnesses.

A judge Tuesday refused to block the ban as requested by a group of bar owners and others. Owners could be fined up to us$100 for a first offense and up to $7,000 per violation for a series of offenses. Customers who insist on smoking could also be fined.

The California law is the latest in a series of legal actions aimed at reducing the incredible impact of smoking on America’s health. The state of Texas settled a lawsuit against the nation’s major cigarette companies for us$15.3 billion. It is the largest legal settlement in American history and will pay to treat smoking-related illnesses. “Our lawsuit asserts that the history of this industry has been rooted in a concerted, decades-long conspiracy to conceal the truth about tobacco,” Texas Attorney General Dan Morales said. “As a direct result, millions of American–fathers, sons, daughters, mothers–have died horrible, preventable, premature deaths.” Thirty-seven other states have lawsuits pending against the tobacco industry.

Among the recent revelations is that tobacco companies deliberately developed marketing plans to hook teenagers as young as 13 on cigarettes, especially through the “Joe Camel” ad campaign. Anti-tobacco forces responded to this admission by threatening to thwart a proposed $300 billion plus national settlement of all cases and go after the companies in court.

The basic strategy of the American tobacco companies is to weather the storm of lawsuits as best they can without getting cigarettes banned altogether, cover their legal expenses by raising prices and in the meantime open new markets for their tobacco products in Asia and Africa where government control is still minimal.