2003-03-29 / Front Page

The Smoking Ban Cometh

By Brian Magoolaghan
The Smoking Ban Cometh By Brian Magoolaghan

By Brian Magoolaghan

Smokers who are out enjoying a night on the town will be told "butt-out" the moment Saturday night becomes Sunday morning this weekend, as the city-wide Smoke-Free Air Act goes into effect.

Non-smokers will perhaps enjoy a breath of fresher indoor air, but smokers won't disappear-and so changes will come to the familiar bar/restaurant scene, as smoking is eliminated from nearly all workplaces including many Rockaway landmarks.

Picture the Irish Circle (the Circle to most residents), on Beach 102 and Rockaway Beach Boulevard, as it was the Tuesday night before the ban. In the front, where smoking has been allowed, eight patrons sat around the large rectangular bar. Some made conversation with each other, one man kept to himself as he ate, another watched the horses on the overhead televisions. In front of half of the people there, in addition to the drink of choice, bar napkins, and cell phones, was a pack of cigarettes and an ashtray. Six out of eight people in that area of the bar would eventually have at least one cigarette.

Now imagine Churchill's in Rockville Centre, part of Nassau County, where the smoking ban has been on for about two weeks. Smokers stand in groups immediately outside the front and rear entrances. Inside, there is no smoking, and no ashtrays. There are "no smoking" signs. If you're in need of a book of matches, the ones that have the name of the bar on them, asking the bartender could get you an earful.

"The 2002 Smoke-Free Air Act protects the health of New York City workers against the proven harmful effects of second-hand smoke. Restaurant and bar workers breathe in more second-hand smoke than any other occupational group and, as a result, are more likely to die from lung cancer," said New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (Health Dept.) Commiss-ioner Thomas R. Frieden.

"If you know the environment is dangerous, and you take the job, you assume the risk," said one middle aged male bar patron. He said places like the Circle, which has separate bars for both crowds, should be allowed to continue to operate as they are. Businesses without patios will see their patrons go elsewhere, particularly as the weather improves, he said. He also said he likes to smoke when he has a beer.

He is not alone. "Smoking and drinking go hand in hand," said University of Toronto (Canada) Researcher Dr. Dzung Anh Le, who has studied the link between alcohol and nicotine addictions. Both drugs are commonly used together, he said, because they both stimulate the brain's dopamine system, which is responsible for pleasure. Addressing another part of the issue, Le said that a similar ban in his area has not appeared to reduce business, and that smokers "have learned to cope with it."

The question for many locals working in the bar/restaurant industry, and other affected businesses, is can they cope with it. "I have a lot of angry customers who don't like it," said Brooklyn Queens Restaurant & Tavern Association member and Pier 92 owner Dan Tubridy. Some local establishments could be forced out of business, Tubridy said, as customers flock to places, like his, where for about six months a year 25% of the restaurant's bayside deck on Beach 92 Street will operate as a smoking section. But he said other licensees will suffer, and that he has presented local representatives with a list of all local establishments-to be compared to a later list-which he said will have some deletions, as places go under.

According to the Health Department second-hand smoke legislation has "had either a neutral or positive effect on business." Some local establishment operators said that could be the case.

"I think it's going to help," said Erik McManus, General Manager of Jameson's on Beach 129 Street. Non-smokers and their children will visit more, he hopes. During the summer, smokers can use the small outside café, McManus said.

Another restaurant betting on a benefit is Kennedy's in Breezy Point. Lizann Maher, a manager there, said removing the smoking section, near their windows, will allow more diners to enjoy the view, while breathing cleaner air. One problem Kennedy's will face is that many of its employees smoke, Maher said. Whereas they used to be able to retreat to the bar for a cigarette while they're on a break, they will now have to go outdoors. Maher said Kennedy's is not interested in greeting patrons with smoking staff members loitering outside. "I feel sad for them," she said.

Another business certain to see some changes in their sales are companies that sell air cleaning devices. "This won't kill me," said Barry Cohen of AirCleaners.com "It might change my business for large restaurants, but they will still buy for kitchen smoke removal," he said. Electro-static precipitators a.k.a. smoke-eaters could become very popular in homes where some smoke and others don't, Cohen said.

In order for establishments to remain in compliance with the law, they must post "no smoking" signs at entrances, remove all ashtrays from the "premises," and must request that anyone smoking stop or leave, according to the Health Dept. During the first month of the ban, Frieden said, his department will issue only inspector reports and warnings instead of summonses. First violations could cost $200-$400, and repeat offending businesses could lose their licenses. Opponents of the smoking ban say they will sue if the Health Department fines business owners only, and not the smoker also. Restaurateurs in Nassau plan to do the same and have already filed suit there for other reasons.

Meanwhile, a state-wide ban is being worked on very quickly in Albany, and could be in effect in about four months. On March 26, The State Senate passed legislation to ban smoking in workplaces. The bill, immediately sent to the State Assembly, would cover any area without a more strict law already on the books, said Michael Arens from the Senate press office. Exemptions in the law include volunteer organizations without employees such as American Legion Halls, he said.

As for the ban that will govern NYC, "It's going to hurt for a while, but people are going to get used to it," said Frank Gallagher from Gallagher's Snug Harbor on Beach 108 Street.

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