City nears total smoking ban in restaurants
MARLBOROUGH - Restaurants will soon face tougher regulations as the city moves closer to a complete smoking ban in its dining establishments.
Starting July 1, no one under age 18 will be able to enter restaurants' smoking areas. And the city will no longer grant variances to restaurants that want larger smoking areas than city codes typically allow.
The tougher regulations are part of the city's four-year plan to ban smoking in all restaurants.
The first set of regulations took effect on Jan. 3, 2000, with a full ban set to take effect in 2004.
Current rules restrict smoking in restaurants to designated sections and restaurant bar areas. The designated smoking area cannot take up more than 30 percent of a restaurant's seating capacity.
Restaurants violating the rules are fined $100 for the first offense, $200 for the second, and $300 for the third. For a third offense, restaurant owners must appear before the Board of Health, and face at least a one-day suspension of health permits.
Rebecca Samara, Marlborough's tobacco control officer, said the city has tried to get restaurant owners used to the idea of a smoking ban. The city has sent out reminders of the tightening rules, and will send out a new round of notices for the July 1 change.
"The city wanted to give people time to get used to the changes, and to make nonsmoking more of a social norm," Samara said. But at last night's Board of Health meeting, she told officials to expect unhappy business owners.
"A lot of people are going to be really angry about this, but I think it's a step in the right direction," Samara said.
The board approved the new restrictions.
In recent years, the debate over smoking regulations across the state has pitted smokers against those who want the bans. Southborough already has a restaurant smoking ban, and Framingham plans to start enforcing its ban next March.
Those decisions prompted substantial debate in both towns, and resistance from restaurant owners.
Smokers say restrictions and bans infringe on their personal rights. And restaurant and bar owners say restrictions hurt their bottom lines, and, in terms of competition, put them at a disadvantage to businesses in neighboring towns with fewer restrictions.
Proponents of such bans cite the hazards of secondhand tobacco smoke and say efforts to ventilate smoke-filled air or contain it with walls don't protect people.
The board will also give restaurants signs to place on the walls in smoking areas, regarding the under-18 rule. According to Samara, the signs will say something to this effect: "Due to the hazardous effects of secondhand smoke, no one under 18 is allowed in the restaurant smoking area."
Chairman Ronald Stokes said he has no problem keeping children out of smoking areas, especially out of restaurant bar areas. Children shouldn't be there anyway, he said.
"When you're going into bar areas, and you're seeing little children. seeing babies in carriers, it's ridiculous," Stokes said.