DUBLIN, Georgia – A year after Georgia forced restaurants to extinguish their smoking sections, the sign outside Chuck and Kay Fordham's diner defiantly invites customers to "Bring Your Butts On In."
Inside, ceiling fans stir the smell of frying bacon and hash browns and clouds of blue cigarette smoke as patrons puff away over cups of coffee. Butts pile up in the ashtrays on the tables and lunch counter.
Folks who don't want a side order of secondhand smoke with their eggs and burgers should probably stay away from the Smoker's Cafe.
The Fordhams found a way around the smoking ban by exploiting a loophole that was created to exempt bars from the law. Instead of banning cigarettes, the couple banned children from their restaurant.
"The biggest thing with me was the government telling you that you can't do this," Chuck Fordham said. "Most smokers, after they eat, want a cigarette. And to get up from the table to smoke, it's just a pain."
As more states and municipalities stamp out smoking in public places, businesses that cater to tobacco lovers are finding ways to allow smokers to keep lighting up.
"We hear about it all the time," said Gary Nolan, spokesman for The Smoker's Club, a smokers' advocacy group. "In many cases they're disobeying it and in other cases they are finding loopholes."
In Little Rock, Arkansas, Pizza D'Action and the Legends Sports Bar and Grill also decided smokers were more profitable than any customers under 21, who have been turned away from both places since Arkansas' smoking ban began in July. Managers at both eateries said the decision was easy, because few customers brought in children anyway.
The Crab Trap restaurant in New Port Richey, Florida, ignored Florida's 2003 smoking ban for nearly three years, drawing two warnings but no penalties before it had to close in April because of structural problems.
Owner Deborah Iannuzzi is unsure whether she will reopen. "With all these laws and everything, I don't know if I want to get back into this," she said.
According to California-based Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights, 17 states and 474 municipalities have enacted smoking bans in restaurants, bars and other workplaces. Hawaii begins a ban in November, and Washington, D.C., is going smokeless in January.
"Just as people violate speed limits, there will be individual businesses who will try to circumvent the smoke-free laws," said Bronson Frick, associate director for the nonsmokers' group. "But over time we see compliance go higher."
The Fordhams had never run a restaurant before they opened the Smoker's Cafe in this small Georgia city, 130 miles (209 kilometers) southeast of Atlanta. The idea came as an angry response to the political momentum of Georgia's proposed ban.
Chuck Fordham, a 41-year-old truck driver, had already come to dread his hauls to Florida, where he could no longer stop for coffee and a cigarette indoors. Kay Fordham, 42, was used to lighting up while selling insurance from a booth at another Dublin diner that allowed smoking before the ban.
So the couple bought a vacant restaurant, hired a short-order cook, stocked up on ashtrays and stenciled "No One Under 18 Allowed" on the door. The Smoker's Cafe opened a month after the Georgia ban took effect in July 2005.
Lunchtime customers continue to fill the tables for 93-cent coffee, $3.99 (euro3.14) cheeseburgers and $12.99 (euro10.22) rib-eye steaks.
"When they passed the smoking law, they left the door open for places like this," said Roger Wild, a postal worker who eats lunch almost daily at the cafe.
David Baggett remains a customer, though he stopped smoking last year. Now he chews cigars, still wrapped in plastic.
"For anyone who doesn't like smoke, this probably wouldn't be the place for them," said Baggett, a real-estate title researcher. "But then, why would the tennis player want to be in the swimming pool?"