Proponents, foes spar over smoking ban
ALBANY - A Roswell Park Cancer Institute study concludes that airborne pollutants in bars and restaurants have fallen dramatically since the state's smoking ban took effect, while a trade group says the law has contributed to the closing of six bars in We
The dueling claims were brought to the State Capitol on Tuesday as health groups and bar and restaurant owners continued to wage their war over the law that, since July 24, has prohibited smoking in all workplaces across the state. Business groups had hoped the State Senate, which was in town for a one-day session, would consider weakening the law. But the Legislature's top Republican dismissed those calls and again praised the measure as a major public health victory.
The Roswell Park survey, which used a hand-held air monitor, took measurements in four bars, a restaurant, two bowling alleys and a pool hall before and after the law took effect. It showed airborne particulates in the facilities dropped an average of 84 percent from the first to the second measurement. Before the law took effect, stand-alone bars had airborne pollutant levels 14 times higher than those of bars that already had banned smoking, the survey found. In one facility, measured on the night the smoking law took effect, airborne particulate levels dropped by half after the law kicked in at midnight.
"The new law is working exactly as it was intended to," said Dr. Andrew Hyland, a Roswell Park epidemiologist who conducted the survey.
That smoke particles in bars have fallen is not surprising. But advocacy groups quickly hailed the research as evidence that the law already has made eating and drinking establishments healthier places for customers and workers. In a survey by the Center for a Tobacco Free New York, volunteers reported that, since July, the proportion of establishments where smoking was observed has dipped to 16 percent from 69 percent. Health groups said the level is acceptable for a new law.
But Patrick Hoak, president of the Innkeepers Association of Western New York, who joined 150 protesters at the Capitol Tuesday, said six bars had closed in the region in the seven weeks after the law took effect. Hoak, the supervisor of Hamburg where he also owns a restaurant and bar, declined to identify the establishments, but said the smoking law was the final straw for the shuttered businesses.
Hoak said his bar business has declined 37 percent since the law took effect, forcing him to lay off a bartender. The remaining bartenders, he said, have lost an average $40 in tips per shift. "What jobs do you have for them, New York State?" Hoak demanded.
Friday night bar business at his bar, he continued, has fallen by $400, with no pickup, as some health groups had predicted, in dining room business.
"It's a disgrace to see 70-year-olds out in your parking lot hiding like teenagers," he said of the law that has pushed smokers outdoors. "What an embarrassment this law is."
A group of bar owners from around the state has sued in federal court to overturn the law. If the lawsuit loses, Hoak described the outlook as "bleak."
But Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno, a Brunswick Republican and chief State Senate backer of the smoking ban, said a hardship clause in the law permits businesses that can prove "true financial hardship" to allow smoking. Bar owners say no health department in the state would be willing to grant the waivers.