Smokers Get Ready for Lights Out
ON a recent Sunday afternoon, the sun shone and there was a fresh breeze off Long Island Sound. But inside the wood-paneled Horseshoe Cafe here in Southport, the only thing to breathe was cigarette smoke. And Dan Zupansky, who was seated at the bar with o
"I think it's terrible," he said, shaking his head in disgust. "The only thing it's going to do is send a bunch of drunks out on the sidewalk. Is that what this kind of neighborhood needs?"
Mr. Zupansky, and many devoted smokers like him, are disparaging the proposed ban on smoking that recently passed the State Senate and last week was approved by the House. Gov. John G. Rowland has already announced he will sign the bill. With its passage, Connecticut will join a handful of others states that are forbidding smoking virtually everywhere but outdoors. The law would take effect on Oct. 1. Owners of small bars will be offered an extension of April 1, 2004.
Public health experts said they were thrilled with the proposal.
"About 53,000 people die each year from second-hand smoke," said Jody Sindelar, an associate professor in the School of Public Health at Yale University and a principal investigator for the Center for Nicotine and Tobacco Research at Yale. "Employees of these bars and restaurants will no longer be the unwitting recipients of somebody else's cigarettes."
The law will make smoking illegal in any restaurant, bar, college dormitory and place of business with five or more employees. Existing cigar bars, private clubs and fraternal organizations would be exempt. Smoking is already illegal in all government buildings and hospitals. Many private buildings are already smoke-free, as evidenced by the exiles who haunt doorways shivering or sweltering in a cloud of smoke. Smoking will be allowed in outdoor cafes and the law permits a designate smoking room in buildings that don't serve food or drink provided the room is properly ventilated. That will benefit the General Assembly because lawmakers have a smoking room on the second floor of the Legislative Office Building (although its ventilation is questionable).
Similar statewide smoking bans were passed in California and Delaware. Boston instituted a citywide ban against smoking in bars and restaurants this month, following New York City in April; New York's statewide ban goes into effect this summer. In Oak Bluffs, one of six towns on Martha's Vineyard, a smoking ban was passed in 2001, but was temporarily rescinded when bar owners pressured the board of health board members. The ban was reinstated when it was passed by residents, said Shirley Fanteaux, the town's health agent.
Most offices or stores in Connecticut are already smoke-free. At Liggett's Suburban Pharmacy in West Hartford, employees step outside to light up. Drive around the back of a supermarket, and you're likely to find cashiers taking a cigarette break. Yet the ban is likely to change the nature of many a bowling alley or auto repair shop.
Fred Bouchard, who works at Rome's Automotive in Bloomfield, said he was relieved the shop had only three employees.
"I wouldn't work here if I couldn't smoke," said Mr. Bouchard, who has been a Camel man for decades. "But when this thing passes, I'm not going to be able to have a cigarette at a bowling alley. It's ridiculous."
Any nonsmoker who has ever tucked into dinner at a restaurant while waving off a cloud of tobacco fumes from a nearby table would be unlikely to argue against the ban.
"I hate the smell of cigarettes, especially if I'm eating," said Matt Hanson, 28, of West Hartford. A woman behind him in a supermarket check-out nodded vigorously.
But last weekend, smokers in bars around the state, already consumers of the most heavily taxed item in the state, expressed outrage and claim the ban will be an assault on free will and another example of government meddling into private lives.
"We fight for freedom over in Iraq and what happens over here? We can't even smoke our own cigarette," said Jason Nardini, a bartender at the Federal Cafe in Hartford, whose response was measured when compared to many others, who fired curse-laden critiques against the proposed ban like darts.
"I feel like a second-class citizen," said Andrew Profitt at the Old Town Café Bar and Grill in Wethersfield. "The only place left to smoke is my backyard and then I don't want to smoke around the kids."
Restaurant owners are mixed on the proposed ban. Some said they are pleased their nonsmoking employees will breathe easier. Chris Hussey, who owns Pastis, a Hartford restaurant, said the health statistics swayed him on the ban.
"For a long time I was dead set against it," he said. ``People drink more and stay longer when they smoke, but for employees who don't smoke, it's not fair."
Bartenders, who pour in a cloud of smoke nightly, are convinced business will suffer if patrons can't smoke.
"It's definitely going to affect business," said Keith Jorpey, a bartender at Rory's, a restaurant and bar on the Post Road in Fairfield. "In the city you can step out on the sidewalk for a cigarette. What are you going to do here, go stand in the parking lot?"
The Connecticut Restaurant Association supported the ban. But Simon A. Flynn, president of the association, said it was either support the statewide ban or allow municipal regulation of it, the province of towns before 1993 when the right was preempted by the State Legislature.
"A lot of owners are concerned about the effects of second-hand smoke," he said. "But I do think they're glad the decision was made for them and it isn't them, the owners, telling patrons they can't smoke."
Mr. Flynn said most owners wanted the decision to allow or ban smoking to be up to each restaurant, a commonly heard refrain from restaurateurs, bartenders and smoking patrons.
Christopher Murphy, a state representative from Southington and cochairman of the Public Health Committee that sponsored the bill, agreed that town by town ordinances wouldn't be fair to owners, but said leaving the decision up to each establishment would not protect all restaurant and bar employees.
Violation of the ban will be considered an infraction of the public health code. Each violation will result in a $99 fine. Repeated infractions could result in a restaurant, bar or business being closed by the Attorney General's office, Mr. Murphy said.
But some lawmakers are skeptical.
"Who's going to enforce it?" said Louis C. DeLuca, Senate minority leader, one of seven Republicans who voted against the ban. "The police have more important things to do." Mr. DeLuca said he found it ironic that the same people who did not support a law requiring motorcyclists to wear helmets, voted for the smoking ban.
"I think it's simply hypocrisy," he said. "They want to legislate some lifestyles, but if you own a motorcycle, you don't need to wear a helmet."
One bar patron said enforcement will be difficult.
"It's going to turn bathrooms into giant ashtrays," said Mike Brown, 28, of Hartford. Mr. Brown has worked in nightclubs for 10 years and was smoking at the Federal Cafe on a recent Saturday night. "`It's the last frontier," he said, as he lit a Cuban cigar. "You can't do anything anymore."
Moira Lyons, speaker of the House, said forcing others to inhale second hand smoke takes the issue of personal liberties too far.
"That's not a personal liberty, that's harming another person," said Ms. Lyon, who was honored earlier this month by the American Lung Association for her efforts on promoting a statewide smoking ban.
Some veteran smokers said they would like to challenge the ban. Alan Schoenfeld, who owns Manchester Tobacco, a supplier of tobacco and candy, said he was talking to a lawyer and questioned the legality of the bill. He also noted that the state, which is struggling financially, collects $15.10 in taxes on a carton of cigarettes and an additional 6 percent sales tax.
"I have 34 employees here and almost all of them smoke at work," said Mr. Schoenfeld, who has owned his company for 38 years and smoked for at least as many. "I can tell you right now, I'm not going to stop smoking in my own office."