Dining guide lets quitters, non-smokers breathe easier

It’s hard enough to quit smoking without having to watch fellow diners puffing away on the other side of the restaurant.

“Avoid places where smokers gather.”

That’s item six on an American Cancer Society list of “Tips to Help You Quit,” but it’s easier said than done when you go out to eat.

Cigarette_smokeNow, in time to help people hoping to kick the habit for the annual “Great American Smoke Out” on Thursday, the society is making it easier to avoid secondhand smoke in restaurants. Its Madison County “Menu for Smoke Free Dining” lists more than two dozen restaurants and fast-food outlets that have pledged to be 100 percent smoke-free establishments.

“Hopefully, people are going to thank these places,” said Dr. Charles Horton, a Huntsville pediatrician.

He’s on the Cancer Society’s board and helped produce the guide, which is the size of a brochure. It’s available at the society office at 2515-B South Memorial Parkway, a few hotels and other public locations, and in local doctor’s and dentist’s offices.

“A lot of people are taking these things and looking them over,” said Horton. Like many doctors, he has lots of patient information pamphlets in the waiting room. Often they’re not touched, he said, but the smoke-free dining guides go out the door.

That’s gratifying to Horton, whose anti-smoking efforts are rooted in his work. Smoking is a “pediatric disease” in the sense that most smokers become addicted to tobacco’s nicotine when they are teenagers. Getting parents and kids to quit smoking – or better, to never start – has a huge influence on the health of his patients.

The “Menu for Smoke Free Dining” is part of that effort. About a year ago, Horton and a team of Cancer Society volunteers contacted the owners or managers of about 500 area restaurants to see if they would ban all smoking in their businesses for a year. That would earn a listing in the guide.

The 5,000 copies of the guide were to be printed in the spring, with financial help from the Huntsville-Madison County Health Department and the Alabama Department of Public Health. Other organizations involved include the American Lung Association, American Heart Association, Partnership for a Drug-Free Community, Center for Chest Disease, and the Madison County Medical Alliance. Together, they form the North Alabama Network Against Tobacco.

Red tape involving the state’s money delayed the project, Horton said, and the brochures became available only in the last couple of months.

At least one smoke-free restaurant didn’t make it into the guide: Cafe Berlin, owned by Dieter Schrader and his wife, Sonja. Schrader closed Cafe Paris – which was smoke-free and is listed – and moved Cafe Berlin from its longtime location on Airport Road into the Cafe Paris address on Whitesburg Drive. Along the way, Cafe Berlin became smoke-free.

“Our clientele, really, is not hyped on smoking,” Schrader said.

The Schraders’ other restaurants include Luciano on Airport Road, which is smoke-free, and Ol’ Heidelberg on U.S. 72, which has a small smoking section to accommodate loyal customers who have lighted up there for years.

One of Huntsville’s newer restaurants on the list is Cheeburger Cheeburger, at Airport Road and Whitesburg Drive. Owner Richard Hutzler said smoking wasn’t a major issue, because his customers typically don’t stay more than 45 minutes.

As the restaurant was planned, Hutzler also considered its size. At 2,000 square feet, Cheeburger Cheeburger is the size of an average home, and seats 60. Think about having 60 people in your house, Hutzler said, and how it would be if only 10 of them were smoking: “Now, am I going to be able to enjoy my meal?”

Health issues aside, smoking wasn’t practical and detracted from the enjoyment of good food, he said.

“I used to smoke years ago,” Hutzler said. “I have empathy, but at the same time it comes down to, what are they there for?”