Public Smoking Legislation Debated
Lawmakers got a whiff Tuesday of the burning controversy ahead as they contemplate further restrictions to public smoking.
The legislature's public health committee conducted a public hearing Tuesday on several bills related to smoking. But the major battle will be whether to impose a comprehensive ban that would prohibit smoking in restaurants, bars and other establishments or to repeal the "pre-emption" provision in the current law, which bars towns and cities from enacting their own tougher bans. Such a repeal would give municipalities the power to regulate public smoking.
Rep. Mary Ann Carson, R-New Fairfield, said that if the threat from secondhand smoke is serious, "it is incumbent upon us to pass a statewide ban without repealing pre-emption."
Carson and her fellow legislators were encouraged to take both actions by a number of speakers.
"They're really complementary," said Attorney General Richard Blumenthal of the ban and the repeal. But he added that simply repealing pre-emption alone would have a big impact.
Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said that giving municipalities the power to regulate smoking would strengthen a statewide ban, because it would remove any impetus to weaken the state law. Why bother tinkering with the ban, he argues, when towns and cities could tighten up regulations on their own?
Rocky Hill Mayor Barbara Surwilo, speaking along with other municipal leaders, said that waiters, bartenders and others who work in restaurants and bars have a big stake in the issue.
"What about their right to breathe clean air?" she asked.
Dr. Anthony Iton, director of health and social services for Stamford, noted that restaurants and bars employ more than 100,000 people in the state. He noted that most eateries in the state are small enough to evade existing smoking restrictions. Iton said that designated smoking sections and typical ventilation schemes don't clear the air adequately.
Several speakers at the hearing, including Myers, said that tougher public smoking laws are good for business. But they were tossing gutter balls as far as the state's bowling center operators were concerned.
Patricia Carney of the Connecticut Bowling Proprietors Association said that league bowlers generate 70 percent of bowling income, and that nearly half of league bowlers smoke. Fewer than a quarter of all adults smoke.
She said that her organization supports a statewide ban that would exclude the lounges in bowling alleys. But this is not the across-the-board ban envisioned by some and points up the difficulties of creating such a ban, as many businesses would push to be exempt.