When the Arlington County board passed an ordinance in March mandating nonsmoking sections in restaurants, health specialists were pleased but some restaurant owners were unhappy.

The ordinance, prompted by lack of participation in a voluntary program and by research showing the harmful effects of cigarette smoke on nonsmokers, requires restaurants with 75 or more seats to set aside one-fourth of the seating for nonsmokers. A violation is punishable by a $25 fine.

The law went into effect May 1, and county officials say that they have encountered few problems.

No violation citations have been issued, and the one complaint received led to a promise of compliance from a restaurateur. Even some of the law's critics say it is working well.

Sergio Micheli, owner of the Firenze and Portofino restaurants in Arlington, does not smoke, but he said he still believes that the law is a bad idea because "government should not tell private industry what to do." He added that the law has not affected his business.

Each of his restaurants has more than one room, and "we set aside one room for smokers, one for nonsmokers," he said. "This thing is working out as good as can be. The nonsmokers are very happy. The smokers don't care."

Mike Mathios, manager of the Alpine Restaurant, was also wary at first. But he has no objections now. "It's working beautifully." -- Evelyn Hsu