Category: Archive

Mayor: no smoke here

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Stephen McKinley

It’s last orders for smokers in New York City’s bars and restaurants, if Mayor Michael Bloomberg gets his way.

On Monday, Bloomberg unveiled plans for a sweeping citywide ban on smoking that would be one of the toughest laws in the nation, rivaling the hard-line anti-tobacco legislation in California.

Bloomberg’s proposal would ban smoking in bars, restaurants, offices, pool halls, bingo parlors and bowling alleys, and he lashed out at smokers, calling them “stupid.”

Already, New York’s Irish bar and restaurant owners say that the proposed law would have a disastrous effect on their businesses, and point out that the current smoking restrictions are an adequate compromise between smokers and non-smokers.

The current law, passed in 1995, bans smoking in restaurants with more than 35 seats but allows smoking in bars that do not sell food, and in the bars of restaurants.

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Bloomberg, who gave up cigar smoking in the 1980s, predicted that children would one day sue their parents over the issue of secondhand smoke, if the child were to be diagnosed with cancer.

Anti-smoking groups praised the proposed ban. The American Cancer Society said that eight of 10 New Yorkers had said in a survey that they were concerned about the effect of secondhand smoke, and cited figures that showed that bar and restaurant businesses were unaffected by tough anti-smoking laws elsewhere in the country.

“Anti-smoking crusaders say they are doing this on behalf of the bartenders and wait staff,” said Kieran Staunton, owner of O’Neill’s Bar and Restaurant on Third Avenue in Midtown, “and it is up to staff in bars and restaurants, many of whom smoke themselves, to point out that this legislation affects their income, and that they do not want this done on their behalf.”

Staunton noted that the experience of bar and restaurant owners in California makes clear that anti-smoking laws of the scope proposed by Bloomberg, have a dire affect on business.

“Tips fell by an average of 30 percent for bar staff,” he said, referring to the effect of the California anti-smoking law in San Francisco.

“And 88 percent of bar and restaurant owners who were polled said they lost business,” said Staunton, referring to a Golden Gate Restaurant Association poll.

Anti-smoking activists have quoted reports in California that showed sales tax on food increased after the smoking ban was implemented there. Staunton suggested that this was because sales tax from non-smoking establishments such as McDonald’s and Wendy’s were included.

Last year, then City Council speaker Peter Vallone introduced a similar anti-smoking bill, but it was killed in committee.

“Unlike the last time, when Giuliani said that he would veto a proposed anti-smoking bill,” said Staunton, “the full weight of the Bloomberg administration is behind this.”

But a City Council staffer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that the bill was not even close to being introduced in the City Council, and that there would be “considerable public debate and consultation” before it achieved its final form.

Bronx bars close to the border with Yonkers and Westchester County could be in a particularly unfortunate situation, because they would be competing with bars just over the border, where smoking would be still permitted.

“We are obviously very much opposed to it,” said Terry Connaughton, owner of the Riverdale Steakhouse in the Bronx. “Any restaurant like the Riverdale Steakhouse with exhaust fans and equipment clearly do not present much in the way of a hazard to non-smokers. And most bartenders and wait staff smoke anyway.”

Connaughton said that the Riverdale Steakhouse, only three or four blocks from the border with Yonkers, would suffer tremendously if the law were passed.

“It would be dreadful for business,” he said.

Des O’Brien, owner of Langan’s Bar and Restaurant just off Times Square on West 47th Street, attacked the legislation as disastrous for business as well.

“It’s really needless,” he said. “The existing law works, has been working, and should be left to work.”

“This is absolutely bad for business,” he continued. “This will really impact the bar and saloon trade.”

All bar owners contacted said that there are plans in the works to fight the proposed legislation on several fronts, not least the United Restaurant and Liquor Dealers of New York.

One bar owner pointed out that many publicans and restaurateurs would have voted for Bloomberg, because of his pro-business platform. Now, he said, they were being betrayed by the mayor.

Connaughton said that he felt that perhaps Bloomberg was “asking for a lot,” in the hope of ending up with tighter smoking restrictions than currently exist, once some legislative horse trading had taken place.

Staunton had a different interpretation.

“There is a lot of complacency toward this proposal,” he said. “This mayor got control of the education board, something that had eluded a lot of other tough mayors — Koch, Giuliani, for example. You think he won’t take down a few Irish bar owners?”

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