April 1, 2003

N.Y. Tells Smokers to Take it Outside

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Bar and restaurant patrons in the State of New York must now look for something other than a cigarette to grace their free hands as they dine. Last Wednesday, the state legislature ended a two-year stalemate by passing measures that outlaw smoking in the workplace, including bars and restaurants.

The law was signed by Governor George E. Pataki following the passage and implementation of similar anti-smoking measures in New York City and at least five counties in the state. The legislation will apply to all areas of the state with no current anti-smoking laws. Those counties with current anti-smoking laws, including Nassau, Suffolk, Westchester, Orange and Dutchess as well as New York City, will implement state policies only in situations in which current laws are less stringent than the new ones.

New York is the third state, after California and Delaware, to pass such a strict restriction on public smoking.

In addition to inspiring lengthy congressional deliberation, the congressional vote elicited lobbying from either side of the controversy.

The American Cancer Society (ACS) was particularly delighted with the anti-smoking regulations.

“We are thrilled,” said Carolyn Howell, spokesperson for the ACS. “We’ve been working on this [legislation] for years. Everyone now has access to a smoke-free environment across the state.”

Health-conscious advocates for the legislation stressed the positive medical implications of the new law.

“This is a public health issue,” Howell said. “A person’s ability to make a living should not be tied to their ability to tolerate cancer-causing toxins.”

Bars, taverns and restaurants, the establishments most dramatically affected by such legislation, lobbied on either side of the debate. Despite protests from the tobacco industry and tavern associations, the final specifications of the law will not allow the option to construct specially ventilated rooms for smoking indoors.

However, not all dining institutions opposed the measure. Some believe that the law will benefit the dining industry.

The New York State Restaurant Association (NYSRA), one such organization, supports the anti-smoking legislation.

“When counties go off on their own [to implement anti-smoking laws], it always ends up dividing the [dining] industry,” said Rick Sampson, president of the NYSRA. “The government is not giving a competitive advantage or disadvantage to any members of the industry.”

Other associations, however, fervently opposed anti-smoking measures, fearing that their implementation would cause the dining and nightlife industries to suffer. Scott Wexler, executive director of the Empire State Restaurant and Tavern Association, voiced his concern for the industry.

“Any further legislation will cause economic harm [to the industry],” he said in an article regarding the New York City anti-smoking debate published last year on CBS.com.

Contrary to Wexler’s sentiments, many Cornell students have voiced their support for the measure.

Jill Hunt ’05 approves of the health-conscious nature of the law.

“Personally, I don’t want to be forced to breathe in second-hand smoke and endanger my life,” she said.

Bethany Koetje ’05 added, “You can make it through dinner without having a cigarette.”

Others have expressed their disdain for the law.

Eric Taylor ’05 said, “I think that the businesses should decide whether to allow smoking in their facility.”

Whether or not the technicalities of the law harm the dining industry and whether or not the law receives statewide support, many critics of the law have underscored the hurdles New York will encounter in implementing the legislation.

Abbey Fingeret ’04 said, “Although it is a step in the right direction, I feel that this policy will never be properly enforced.”

David Rabin, president of the New York Nightlife Association, agrees.

“The real world is, it’s 2 a.m., there’s a table that’s already bought $700 worth of drinks and everyone’s had a few, and someone at their table wants to light up a cigarette and won’t listen when I ask them not to,” he stated in an article in The New York Times last week. “What am I supposed to do? The city says call the police. That’s ridiculous. No bar owner would do that.”

The law is set to take effect in July, 120 days after its passage in the State Senate.

Archived article by Ellen Miller