By Stephen McKinley
Concerned restaurant and bar staff and owners met in Annie Moore’s restaurant in Midtown Manhattan last week to discuss opposing Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s plan to ban smoking in every bar and restaurant in the city.
Jack Cooke, president of the United Restaurant and Liquor Dealers of Manhattan, addressed the crowd of about 100 for an hour and explained that a campaign to educate the public about the effects of the proposed ban would have on bar and restaurant businesses in the city.
“We are committed to fighting this,” Cooke said. “It is an intrusion on the right to conduct business as bar and restaurant owners want to.”
At the meeting, several owners related anecdotal evidence from the experience of restaurateurs and bar owners in California, currently the part of the U.S. with the strictest anti-smoking law. Bloomberg’s proposed law would enforce an even tighter smoking ban in New York City.
Evidence from California, speakers said, suggested that despite the state statistics showing that business in bars and restaurants increased after the smoking ban several years ago, many bar owners experienced the opposite effect: tips fell and business went down.
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“If you are outside smoking, you can’t be inside drinking,” said Cooke, adding that smokers tend to stay longer in bars than nonsmokers and to tip more. “We will be raising money to educate the public about our point of view. We will have a strategy to implement that.”
Cooke acknowledged that the battle with the mayor would be difficult.
“The mayor is not the sort of man to change his mind at this stage of his career,” he said, adding that more attention would be focused on members of City Council who could be more receptive.
“No date has been set for the introduction of the bill in council,” he said, “but after the first week of September, we will have a clearer idea about public hearings and so on.”
Bar and restaurant owners from the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan attended the meeting. Last week, the Echo reported on the effects of the proposed ban in areas such as Woodlawn in the Bronx, on the city limits, where smokers, faced with a ban on lighting up on Katonah Avenue could walk a few blocks into Westchester County, where bars would still allow smoking.
Cooke suggested that the URLD might hire a public relations firm to help put across the organization’s point of view in the public debate about the ban.
He said that letters to the editor in local newspapers were “running in our favor.” He also noted that it was important for bar staff to attend the meetings and to protest the ban as well.
“This affects everyone. Most bartenders are not happy that a billionaire [like the mayor] is claiming to be concerned for their health,” he said, referring to the mayor’s statement that his proposed smoking ban would be for the good of the health of bartenders who have to experience second-hand smoke during their shifts.