Bloomberg Seeks to Ban Smoking in Every Restaurant and Bar
The Bloomberg administration will ask the City Council to amend New York City's antismoking law to include all restaurants and bars, making it one of the toughest in the nation.
The current law, passed in 1995, forbids smoking in all restaurants with more than 35 seats, and excludes stand-alone bars and the bar areas of all restaurants. The proposed amendment would add roughly 13,000 establishments that would be forced to ban smoking entirely.
A state bill banning smoking in all restaurants passed the Assembly this year and had enough support to pass in the Senate. But under pressure from Gov. George E. Pataki, who insisted on exempting small restaurants, and a heavy lobbying campaign by restaurant groups and the tobacco and liquor industries, the Senate's Republican leaders never put the bill to a vote.
However, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg â€” who, along with his health commissioner, Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, is persistently anti-tobacco â€” views bars and restaurants as workplaces before social establishments, and has said that employees within them should have the same option of a smoke-free environment as those who work in offices.
"The mayor will push this," one administration official said, "for all the same reasons he pushed the cigarette tax. He makes changes to things that he thinks are important."
Mr. Bloomberg gained approval from Albany this year to raise the taxes on cigarettes, making the cost of a pack about $7.50 in the city. The administration is expected to announce its plans to amend the antismoking law on Monday. Even cigar bars, if they serve alcohol, are likely to be included in the legislation.
In the last month, the mayor has quietly lined up support in the Council, where several members are likely to sponsor a bill at his request forcing all smoking New Yorkers to do their puffing outdoors. (Under the 1995 law, smoking was outlawed in public places like theaters and offices.)
Among those consulted was Councilman James S. Oddo from Staten Island, who came up with his own more modest bill this spring to expand the smoking laws to small restaurants. Hearings were never held on the bill.
"The health commissioner and the mayor make a very compelling argument for legislation that goes well beyond my bill," he said yesterday. "I am seriously considering sponsoring it."
Edward Skyler, a spokesman for Mr. Bloomberg, would not comment last night.
Timothy Filler, the associate director of Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights, said the amendment "would be hugely significant."
"New York is a bellwether and a city that many others look toward as a leader," he added. "If New York City were to do something that included restaurants and bars, it would be a great step forward in public health."
The city is bound to meet some resistance from both some restaurants and bars and those that represent them, although the New York State Restaurant Association recently reversed its longstanding opposition to the proposed state law after a survey showed that 76 percent of its 7,000 members favored the law.
"Our position has been that we have some of the strictest rules in the country, and we have learned to live with them, and we think they should be left alone," said E. Charles Hunt, the executive vice president of the restaurant association.
However, he added: "If a total ban is proposed in all public places, I think people are going to say nobody has an advantage over anyone else and would seriously consider whether or not that might work. The whole thing seems to be boiling down to an employee safety issue at this point."
Lawmakers in Nassau and Suffolk Counties are considering similar measures, officials there said.
If such a law were passed, New York City would join two states â€” California and Delaware â€” and scores of municipalities that ban smoking in just about every workplace, including bars and restaurants.
Three other states â€” Maine, Utah and Vermont â€” have statewide bans on smoking in all restaurants. Municipalities have been more aggressive in seeking tough and broad antismoking laws, largely because local legislatures are less vulnerable to the powerful tobacco industry lobby.
New York State law requires that a restaurant have a nonsmoking area that encompasses at least 70 percent of its seats, but the smoking area can be in the same room.
There are 72 municipalities in America that ban smoking in any restaurant or bar, according to Mr. Filler, and hundreds offer some other variation on a law against public smoking, allowing people to light up in stand-alone bars, or permitting smoking in restaurant bars that have separate ventilation systems.
In California, where the Legislature passed a law in 1994 that banned smoking in all workplaces, including bars and restaurants, many tavern and restaurant owners feared dire economic consequences. Some studies, including one by the state's sales tax collection agency in 1998, actually showed an increase in sales after the law was enacted.
"I don't believe a New Yorker would choose a steakhouse in Weehawken over Ruth's Chris in New York City because of a smoking regulation," Mr. Oddo said yesterday.
Mr. Bloomberg, who has a school of public health named after him, is aggressively antismoking. When he lobbied for his cigarette tax, he insisted that he did not care whether the city made or lost money, but rather that the tax would keep children from smoking. He has been known to chide reporters for their puffing, and has takes slaps at the tobacco industry in speeches.
He has found a kindred spirit in Dr. Frieden, the health commissioner, who said when he was appointed that his main priority would be to combat smoking. Dr. Frieden has even produced a radio advertisement deploring secondhand smoke.