Bar owners, smokers fight smoking ban
ALBANY, N.Y. -- Two groups announced lawsuits Tuesday challenging the statewide ban on most indoor smoking in public buildings and businesses scheduled to begin Thursday.
The Empire State Restaurant and Tavern Association filed suit Tuesday and seeking a temporary injunction. The group wants to delay Thursday's beginning of the state ban on indoor smoking meant to protect the health of patrons and workers from second-hand smoke.
The association argues the state law can't supersede federal law, which governs most workplace safety issues. The group also claims the law is unconstitutional because it is "vague" in its description of a potential but unlikely waiver and even in its definition of a bar.
The NYC CLASH _ Citizens Lobbying Against Smoker Harassment _ said it would sue on constitutional grounds.
"They obviously discriminate against smokers, as a class," said Audrey Silk, the founder of CLASH that plans to file the suit Wednesday. "The people who smoke seem to have been forgotten and this lawsuit is a chance for the people to be heard."
"What's that?" said Assemblyman Alexander Grannis, who sposnored the law. "The freedom to give someone else a disease? Give me a break." He said there has never been a constitutional challenge to smoking laws in New York at any level.
Gov. George Pataki on Tuesday stood behind the law.
"I signed the law because I thought it was constitutional and I still think it's constitutional," Pataki said. "It's the law of the state ... I would expect everyone to comply with the law."
Tavern owners say they seek a balance because they will lose business.
"We support the adoption of a reasonable law that protects the public health while providing business with the ability to accommodate all of its customers," said Bill Leudemann, president of the association. "We have identified several flaws in the new state smoking ban law that we believe will lead to the court overturning the law."
In December 2001, however, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced it was dropping a proposal to regulate indoor workplace smoking because "most of the activity on workplace smoking restrictions is now taking place at the state and local level," according to an OSHA press release.
"The suit is groundless and is more a public relations exercise," said Russell Sciandra, director of the Center for a Tobacco Free New York. As for the suit by NYC CLASH: "They are grasping at straws. The law will stand."
If successful, the lawsuits could affect New York City's similar ban on indoor smoking.
Some bar owners plan protest rallies and others threaten to again turn off their Quick Draw lottery machines, which provide revenue to the state. Two previous Quick Draw protests cost the state more than $1 million in sales.