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The first publican to test new smoke-free laws allegedly asked his hotel patrons to "light up" in front of an enforcement officer.

On the opening day of the trial against Timaru's Carlton Hotel, the court heard that publican Geoff Mulvihill repeatedly and blatantly flouted the new law and stated that his patrons had freedom of choice to smoke.

Some of those patrons were in the Timaru District Court supporting him yesterday, waving banners that read "Freedom of Choice".

Mulvihill had led a procession of supporters from his hotel to the court and said he was confident of being acquitted of the charges against him.

Carlton Hotel Ltd faces eight charges under the smoke-free legislation of "failing to take all practicable steps to ensure that no person smoked at any time in a part of the Carlton Hotel premises that was not an open area".

Each charge carries a maximum fine of $4000, and the hotel could ultimately lose its liquor licence.

Yesterday, smoke-free officer Wayne Marriott told Judge Murray Abbott that Mulvihill was given a range of information and brochures on the new law and how to deal with smoking patrons.

Mr Marriott said he visited the Carlton on December 13 last year to speak to Mulvihill after receiving a complaint about an alleged breach of the law.

"I told him I had a complaint regarding smoking on December 10, 2004. At this time, Mr Mulvihill turned to his patrons and said 'Light up, please'. Four patrons then lit cigarettes."

Mr Marriott said he sought an assurance from Mulvihill that smoking would no longer happen in his bar.

"Mr Mulvihill then told me it was freedom of choice. He said it's up to the public to decide if they want to smoke in here or not."

Mr Marriott said he suggested that those who refused to stop smoking in the hotel could be trespassing, but "Mr Mulvihill said the only person he would consider trespassing is me."

Mr Marriott said he visited the hotel at other times to speak to Mulvihill and noticed patrons smoking, ashtrays laid out on tables, a strong smell of smoke in the air and only one smoke-free sticker - stuck to the forehead of an effigy of Paul Holmes.

The trial is expected to end tomorrow.

The law

* The Smoke-free Environments Amendment Act has required bars, restaurants, cafes, sports clubs and casinos to be smoke-free indoors since December 10 last year.
* It also applies to workplaces, including offices, factories, warehouses, work canteens and smoko rooms.