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Restaurants' choice: Kids or smoking?

LAWRENCEVILLE - Starting today, a new statewide smoking ban will go into effect and force those restaurants and bars that have not yet been restricted by the county's ban to choose between minors, smokers or renovations.

Under Georgia's new state law, restaurants that still want to have smoking areas must either choose to restrict patrons and workers younger than 18 or have a separate ventilation system for the smoking portion of the restaurant.

Under Gwinnett County's ordinance, which has been in effect since April of last year, there are no exemptions for restaurants.

For some business owners considering their options, such as Loco's Deli and Pub in Lawrenceville, it doesn't seem worth the expense to renovate their restaurant to cater to smokers.

"We're not too worried about our business now that it's a statewide ban," said Chris Martinson, a managing partner at Loco's. "Our smoking customers don't seem too thrilled about it. But if they want to eat out, it'll be the same everywhere now."

Loco's was annexed into the city limits of Lawrenceville shortly after the county's ordinance was passed last year, making them exempt from a smoking ban until the state passed its regulations.

Right down the road from Loco's is Digger's Sports Grill, a restaurant in an unincorporated area of the county and therefore subject to the county's ordinance.

"The only reason we're glad to see a statewide ban is because at the least it will put everyone on an even playing field," Digger's owner Brandon Sadler said.

Sadler, who empathizes with businesses that will now be forced to abide by the state smoking ban, said his business fought the county's ordinance.

Both Digger's and Loco's are restaurants that appeal to families and older adults, making it tough for them to impose an age limit.

Martinson also said it would be difficult to impose an age limit because Loco's has several hostesses that are under 18.

For bars such as Sportsline Bar and Grille on Duluth Highway, the decision to restrict minors was not a difficult one.

"We don't have too many families come here," Zydruwe Zvaliauskaite said. "So we'll just impose an age limit so that smoking is still allowed."