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Californians scoff at law - puff away

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Told that they were smoking in violation of the law, many Californians kept right on puffing away at bars as the new year and a new ban arrived Thursday.

Nearly 200 rebellious smokers at the Pine Cove Inn tavern in Sacramento continued puffing on cigars and cigarettes after midnight, when the state's strict no-smoking ban officially went into effect."Ladies and gentlemen, you are all officially breaking the law if you are smoking," hollered tavern manager Gerry Sherman. He was met with jeers and cat calls - and everyone kept smoking.

At San Francisco's Gold Dust Lounge, Jake McClean, 21, kept smoking his cigar right through midnight.

He didn't plan to stop, "unless they pry it from my fingers."

California banned smoking in most indoor workplaces in 1995, including the non-bar areas of restaurants. Bars and casinos were temporarily exempt.

But the only exempt businesses now are casinos and bars on American Indian reservations and owner-operated businesses with no employees. More than 35,000 bars, gambling parlors and bar-restaurants are affected.

California is the first state to ban smoking in most bars and casinos. The ban isn't meant to criminalize smoking, state officials say, but to give employees a workplace free of secondhand smoke, which has been linked to lung cancer, respiratory problems and other illnesses.

Owners breaking the law could be fined up to $100 for a first offense and up to $7,000 per violation for a series of offenses. Smokers can be fined.

State officials estimate that 82 percent of California's adults don't smoke.