Smoke-free N.Y. hits 6-month milestonez
ELMIRA | As her mother prepared to open for business, tiny newborn Reilly Sullivan slept soundly in a corner booth of Horigan's Tavern Friday morning.
That's something Horigan's owner, Katie Boland, would never have allowed if smoking still was legal in restaurants.
Anti-smoking supporters gathered at Horigan's Friday to celebrate the six-month anniversary of the Clean Indoor Air Act. The law seeks to protect workers from secondhand smoke and prohibits smoking in bars and restaurants.
Boland said she was worried after the law was first enacted in July.
"I was concerned in the beginning because I thought it would drive business away," Boland said. "Our business has been up 30-40 percent, which shocked me."
Boland has seen new non-smoking patrons since the law was enacted. And the regular smokers who said they would stay home continue to patronize the bar.
"People who were really adamant that they were never coming back - they're still coming in every day and smoking outside," she said.
In addition to an upswing in business, Boland now feels more comfortable bringing her children, Megan, 9, and baby Reilly to work with her. The law went into effect in July, just after Boland learned she was pregnant.
"It was nice knowing I didn't have to breathe that in from July on," Boland said.
That's really what the Clean Indoor Air Act is all about, Southern Tier Tobacco Awareness Coalition and American Cancer Association representatives said Friday.
Leanne Hall, Southern Tier Tobacco Awareness Coalition coordinator, said a recent state Health Department study showed the amount of nicotine absorbed by hospitality workers has dropped more than 80 percent since the law took effect in July.
"Protecting public health was the idea behind the law, protecting the health of customers and workers," Hall said. "It's such a positive step to take and, just as we thought, customers, business owners and workers are happy about it."
Hall said a New York state Adult Tobacco Survey, administered from June-September 2003, showed 87 percent of New Yorkers are frequenting bars the same amount or more since the Clear Indoor Air Act was implemented.
In the past year, New York state gained 16,000 new hospitality jobs, Hall said. The number of bars and restaurants licensed to serve liquor increased from 16,126 in October 2002 to 16,315 in October 2003, Hall said.
Hall said a March survey showed:
n 22.2 percent of Southern Tier residents polled said they would eat at smoke-free restaurants more. Fewer than 7 percent said they would eat out less.
n 22.2 percent of Southern Tier residents polled said they would go to smoke-free bars more while 7.2 percent said they would go to bars less.
But while many restaurant owners say they have seen business increase, owners of bars and private clubs say the ban on smoking has continued to drive customers away.
Robert Page, Chemung County Public Health director, said the county has received 11 applications for waivers. Of those, two have been approved, four likely are to be approved soon, one has just begun review and four were returned for incomplete information.
Toshiba in Horseheads and Blondie's Tavern in Elmira Heights have received waivers, Page said.
The New York State Health Department administers waivers for Steuben, Schuyler and 19 other counties. Claire Pospisil, Health Department spokeswoman, said the state has received just 18 waiver applications for the 21 counties it oversees.
To receive a waiver, Chemung County applicants must pay a $150 application fee, show they have had a significant economic loss because of the law and demonstrate how they will establish segregated, ventilated smoking rooms. Businesses may also be eligible for waivers if they can demonstrate how compliance with the law causes health or safety concerns.
Page said initially there was some confusion about the waivers to allow smoking. Waivers do not allow bar and restaurant owners to reinstate smoking throughout an establishment, he said.
Owners must create or use an existing separate room with a door that employees and the general public do not have to pass through. The smoking room must also have a separate ventilation system.
"Their responsibility is to educate people that they just can't walk in and light up anywhere," Page said.
The Chemung County Health Department will continue to conduct unannounced inspections of both establishments that have waivers and those that don't.
A first violation will result in a warning, Page said. Further violations can result in fines up to $1,000 per incident.