Framingham bans smoking at bars, restaurants and clubs: New rules will take effect in March 2003
FRAMINGHAM - The Board of Health voted last night to ban smoking in restaurants, bars and clubs open to the public, saying the move is in the best interest of people who work there.
The regulation will take effect March 1, 2003, and will prohibit smoking at 31 places in town, including 10 restaurants and nine bars. The remaining places are private clubs, which will be subject to the rules when they hold functions open to the public.
"That is the only point, to protect workers," said board member Dr. Thomas Treadwell. "Not to mention that the current regulation is inane. It's stupid. It's embarrassing."
The three board members, Treadwell, Chairman Jim Gordon and Nelson Goldin, agreed that the current bylaw, passed in 1999, was unenforceable because of a stipulation that said establishments with smoking areas couldn't offer a full menu, but could offer incidental, or snack food.
The law also required establishments to erect barriers between smoking and non-smoking sections, causing some restaurants to make renovations costing as much as $80,000.
Exempted from the new regulations would be private clubs or private functions in a restaurant.
For instance, town Public Health Administrator Bob Cooper said, if someone rented a room in a restaurant for a private function, smoking could be allowed.
Cooper said the board will request that Town Meeting vote to eliminate the current bylaw before the new regulations take effect to avoid a conflict.
Treadwell said he believed comments made at the public hearing by restaurant owners and managers about the changes being unfair were "disingenuous."
He said the restaurant owners knew the board had always planned to strengthen the bylaw, and said they were told that when the bylaw was passed in 1999.
No one representing area restaurants or bars spoke at last night's meeting attended by two reporters, Selectman John Kahn and a resident.
Gail Klein, a bartender at Nobscot Cafe, said Nobscot manager Michael Quinn called a member of the health board yesterday morning to see if it would be voting on the smoking ban and was told it was unlikely.
At a public hearing held last month, restaurant workers, owners and managers testified that going "smoke-free" in Framingham would cost them customers to neighboring towns.
They argued it would be better to have a statewide ban rather than have different policies among competing towns.
Klein, the bartender, said she doesn't see why customers who smoke will want to drink in a non-smoking bar. She said the bar will lose money to people staying home to drink and smoke.
"At least we get another year of our customers," she said after hearing the board voted to ban smoking. "It gives us another year to see what we can do about it."
Danny Flynn, a customer at Nobscot Cafe last night, didn't like the idea of not being able to smoke in the bar. He said he would go to another town.
"It's no good," he said. "The people who come here enjoy having a drink and a smoke. Why are we being thrown out of our place for people who don't even come here?"
Initially last night, the board discussed appealing to the state to enact a bill currently in study "relative to banning smoking in the workplace." A letter drafted by Chairman Jim Gordon asks state legislators to create a "level playing field."
"The fairest thing is nobody smokes, and it's the most healthy too," said Cooper.
Treadwell then asked board members whether they want to be sheep or shepherds.
"We're not exactly on the cutting edge here," he said, noting that many other communities across the state have non-smoking policies.
Rather than waiting for the state or neighboring towns to take the lead, the three board members voted to approve the smoking ban.
Board members agreed to meet with boards of health from surrounding communities to try to convince them to adopt similar regulations so the impact to business owners would be lessened. They also voted to send Gordon's letter to local representatives to the state Legislature.
Neighboring towns that do not have a "smoke-free" policy include Natick, Marlborough, Sudbury, Wayland and Ashland.
Treadwell said he believes bars will be most affected by the tougher regulations, and none of the board members wants to see any establishment go out of business - that's why they're giving establishments a year to prepare.
"I think our homework is to get the surrounding towns to compete," he said.