Bill Aims to Ban Workplace Smoking
For almost 20 years, Suffolk County has been slowly eroding people's rights to smoke in public. With one more measure, the butts could stop here.
A group of bipartisan lawmakers today is expected to unveil a bill that bans smoking in virtually all workplaces - including bingo halls, bowling alleys, bars and restaurants. This effort is the product of talks with officials in Nassau, Westchester and New York City to provide a regional standard for workplace smoking.
The Suffolk bill would allow smoking only in private homes and in private enclosed offices occupied exclusively by smokers. Smoking also would be permitted in outdoor seating at bars and restaurants. State and federal property are exempt from the county's jurisdiction.
In Suffolk now, smoking is limited to separate rooms in all restaurants. It is also banned within 50 feet of hospitals or public buildings and restricted in workplaces.
Brian Foley, a Democratic legislator from Blue Point, said the proposed ban is essential to protect public health and is also a workplace safety issue.
"Second-hand smoke kills tens of thousands of Americans each year and injures the health of tens of thousands more as well," said Foley, who chairs the health committee and is co-sponsoring the bill with fellow Democrat Ginny Fields of Oakdale and Presiding Officer Paul Tonna, a Republican from West Hills. "This reso- lution is going to save lives here in Suffolk County."
Foley said the proposed ban will be discussed in the next health committee meeting Oct. 2. A public hearing before the full legislature will be held Oct. 8.
In Nassau, similar legislation will be considered by the legislature at its Oct. 7 meeting, said Deputy Presiding Officer Roger Corbin (D-Westbury). Corbin, the legislature's health committee chair, said the bill he's introducing is similar to Foley's. He said legislation being considered in Westchester and New York City will be in step with those proposed on Long Island, but is moving slightly slower.
Since talks among policymakers in the downstate region became public last month, the concept of a complete ban has run into stiff opposition from restaurant and bar owners who say businesses will go belly up as customers opt to stay home to smoke in peace.
John Reyerson, owner of McGuire's Restaurant and Comedy Club in Bohemia, said he expects to lose about a third of his business if the legislation is approved. He said a complete ban would be too onerous because about four years ago the county required restaurants and bars to install separate ventilation systems and partitions to segregate smoking and nonsmoking areas.
"There is no way I'm going to recoup my investment," said Reyerson, who is also chairman of the board of directors for the Suffolk Restaurant and Tavern Association. "They are not going to come here and have a beer and watch a football game if they can't have a smoke. Why would they?"
Suffolk Legis. Fred Towle (R-Shirley) said the ban is too intrusive and takes away people's ability to make decisions. "There comes a point when government has gone too far," he said.