The packed council chamber heard testimony from bar and restaurant owners opposed to the ban as well as from officials from other cities where smoking bans have been successfully imposed.
The media has reported that council members are seeking to negotiate a compromise to the 100 percent ban desired by Bloomberg, but few council members are willing to speak on the record about their voting intention.
Bloomberg told the last hearing that a smoking ban would only improve business in bars and restaurants, an assertion strongly opposed by bar and restaurant owners and the United Restaurant and Liquor Dealers association.
Bar and restaurant owners have said that business will fall and there will be quality of life issues if smokers congregate on sidewalks outside to smoke.
At this hearing, Bloomberg invited Alex Munter, a council member from Ottawa, Ontario, to testify.
Munter, chairman of Ottawa’s health, recreation and social services committee, was one of the most strident anti-tobacco crusaders where a 100 percent ban on smoking was imposed on public places in the city in August 2001.
The hearing also comes a few days after Ireland’s minister for health, Micheal Martin, announced legislation that would outlaw smoking in any Irish bar or restaurant that served food, a fact that did not escape Mayor Bloomberg.
The mayor said that those who claimed that European tourists would boycott New York City if smoking were banned could not now make that assertion.
Martin’s announcement is at the proposal stage, but the minister can impose the ban by signing it into law without a debate in the Dail.
Addressing the New York hearing, Ottawa council member Munter said that the Ottawa ban had increased bar revenues and that new establishments had opened.
But speaking from Ottawa, Barry McKay, director of a pub and restaurant coalition called PUBCO (Pub and Bar Coalition of Ontario), which unsuccessfully opposed the ban, said that Munter’s data — that the ban on smoking in Ottawa was an all-around success — was misinformation.
“Based on our research since the ban was imposed,” McKay said, “Ottawa sales of beer have fallen by $11 million in the year to August 2002, compared with other cities without a ban.” Ottawa, he said, was a city of almost 1 million inhabitants.
“Munter also will tell you,” he said, “that 120 new establishments opened after the ban, but the vast majority of them are burger joints, pizza parlors, coffee shops, hardly any of them are licensed.”
A PUBCO survey in September 2002 of 54 establishments, one third of PUBCO’s membership, found that sales were down 22 percent on the year to September, and 77 employees had been laid off.
Speaking to Tuesday’s New York hearing for the URLD, spokesperson Brian Rohan said that “Ottawa sounded like the perfect place for the mayor,” where the anti-smoking legislation included hefty fines and possible jail sentences for bar owners whose establishments were repeatedly found in breach of the ban.
Also testifying was Rob Bookman, counsel for the New York Nightlife Association, who asked that the council consider a compromise.
“Compromise is not a dirty word,” he said. “Reasonable people should sit down and work this out.”
Chris Norwood, executive director of Health Force, Community Preventive Health Institute in the South Bronx, told the health committee “prohibition does not work.”
She noted that one result of the hike in the cigarette tax has been that teenagers have been selling single cigarettes for a dollar apiece in the Bronx.
City council member Robert Jackson of Manhattan’s District 7 said that while he is in favor of a ban, he is not in favor of a complete ban.
“That may be OK in restaurants, but not in bars where people go for a beer and a smoke,” he said. “This [proposed] ban is supposed to protect bar and restaurant workers. Since when did the mayor become concerned with workers?
“When contacted by the supporters of the ban, I made my position clear and then asked, why don’t we just ban alcohol? And the response was that alcohol harms only the individual who is drinking, whereas smoking causes secondhand smoke. I replied that I have personally cried many times at the graves of people killed by drunk drivers.”
A third hearing will be scheduled to take place before the health committee. City Hall sources said that this would not happen until after Thanksgiving.