Category: Archive

Bloomy: Butt out

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

After several minor amendments, proposed local law 256a was drafted into reality on Wednesday by the city council. The mayor had hoped to eighty-six smokers with local law 256, a slightly tighter ban.
A vote will come as early as 11 a.m. on Wednesday, and the law would take effect within 90 days, possibly in time for St Patrick’s Day. Bar and restaurant owners, many of them Irish, protested the move and some have said they plan to take legal action, because the ban allows a loophole for cigar bars.
Cigar bars were spared but almost every bar in the city will have to ban smoking. Other minor exceptions include bars with no other employees than the owners, nonprofit membership clubs with no employees, and, most controversially, bars that construct a separate enclosed smoking room with industrial strength ventilation systems.
Of the amendments, Bloomberg said: “It’s a bill I can work with. I would of course have preferred the original version, but we live in a democracy and the city council felt strongly about a handful of carve-outs, and I said in the end, fine.”
Bar and restaurant owners had fought a spirited but sometimes disorganized campaign against the ban in recent months. The Bloomberg ban was greeted in many quarters as an inevitability, although bar and restaurant owners made a strong case that the ban would devastate their businesses, a claim that Bloomberg ridiculed, saying that people would drink more if they could not smoke.
“Basically, we lost,” said Brian Rohan, who had represented the views of bar and restaurant owners at city hall hearings for the United Restaurant and Liquor Dealers of New York. “This is what happens when you get a government body regulating an industry they know nothing about.”
“There’s no possibility of even looking at [a separate ventilated smoking room],” said Kieran Staunton of O’Neill’s bar in Midtown Manhattan. “It would be anything from $25,000 to $100,000 to get it up to standard.”
Council member Philip Reed of District 8 in Harlem also dismissed the exception in the ban that permits a separate ventilated smoking room, calling it “fraudulent.”
“The thing that I think has been more appalling to me is the fraudulence of this compromise,” he said. “I haven’t met anybody who has read through those regulations and realistically thinks anybody’s going to be able to build a room in their bar.”
Another council member, Yvette Clarke of Brooklyn’s District 40, said that the exemption for cigar bars was “elitist,” that it allowed a loophole for Manhattan cigar bars whereas small bars in working-class neighborhoods would have to ban smoking.
At two public hearings on the ban, Bloomberg presented a wide range of evidence and witnesses against smoking, including an expert from Ottawa who had championed a smoking ban that took effect there in 2000.

Policing issue
What observers say remains to be seen is how the ban will be policed.
The law calls for fines against bar owners of $400 for a first offense and $2,000 for three or more offenses. With the city suffering a massive budget deficit and a citywide public hiring freeze, Bloomberg is unlikely to augment the current number of health inspectors, of whom there are about 100.
The new law will also test the claims of bar owners about the effect on their business. Public order concerns were also aired before city council. One was that smokers would stand on the sidewalks outside bars making noise and disturbing neighbors.
Bar owners from California, where smoking was banned in 1998, have said that their businesses suffered a fall in trade of as much as 30 percent, although the state has published statistics showing no effect on bar and restaurant trade.
In New York, bar and restaurant owners have said that as till receipts drop with smokers staying away from bars or spending less time in bars, the first effect will be on charities that Irish bars have donated to in the past.
“A number of things will be hit straight away,” Staunton said. “When obviously your business is about to drop, you have to prepare for that.
“I have already turned down five calls from charities this year. We would normally donate to a lot of Irish organizations, cultural, athletic ones, as well as a few religious ones. We’ve had to stroke them off the list.
“We are disappointed. We are disappointed that the city council was more interested in accommodating a billionaire mayor than the working families of the city.”

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