Where's the Opposition?
Harold Kramer doesn't smoke.
But he's against the Smoke-Free
Workplace Act of 2002, which will go into effect on March 30,
2003 in New York City.
"I'm a businessman,"
said Kramer, who owns the Raven
Café, a typical one-room corner bar on 12th and A in
the East Village. "Just about 90 percent of my customers smoke.
It's unfair for the city to force me to jeopardize my business.
My patrons come to the bar to have a drink and a smoke and because
of this new law I'm going to have to tell them to stop. Talk about
slapping the hand that feeds you. I can't believe this ban got passed."
I couldn't believe it either
when I heard about this ban. I know that other cities out west,
L.A. and San Francisco put a ban into place, but this is New York-tough,
gritty, the famed crossroads of the world-no way could this pass,
I thought. I remember hearing rumors that Mayor Bloomberg was going
to try to push this through the City Council, but when it actually
happened I was shocked that there wasn't more of an outcry, or at
least some opposition.
|Brett Goldman tokes on his giant paper bag
cigar in protest of the City Council's smoking ban decision.
I remember reading about
a solo demonstrator named Brett Goldman, an area real estate developer
and former smoker who stood on the steps of city hall with a giant
paper bag cigar chanting for the Council to repeal their decision.
"This bill flew so
far under the radar that it bothered me," Goldman said when
asked why he chose to demonstrate even though he doesn't smoke anymore.
"I follow local politics closely and I don't like to see bills
get bullied into place without much challenge or discussion."
Goldman was right. I consider
myself a relatively well-informed New Yorker, but even after the
bill had been passed, I didn't even know exactly what the terms
were. After some intensive Googling, I learned that when
the law goes into effect, it will be illegal for anyone to light
- any restaurant
- any bar or nightclub--with three exceptions:
- the establishment
houses a completely enclosed smoking tank with negative air
pressure that no employee may enter, note: this exemption
will expire in three years
- the establishment
is run and operated by the owner and has no employees
- most of the establishment's business is
derived from the sale of tobacco products, basically cigar
bars, which there are seven of throughout the entire City
- private clubs
- bingo halls
- pool halls
- convention halls
- catering halls
- 75 percent of outdoor
But, to really understand
the issue, I attended a public debate at Baruch
College hosted by Justice
Talking, a radio show associated with National
Speaking against the ban
was Jacob Sullum, a senior editor at Reason,
a libertarian magazine, and a syndicated columnist who's weekly
column, distributed by Creators Syndicate, is carried by
newspapers across the country including the New York Post,
The Washington Times, and the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
Promoting the ban was Joseph Cherner, president of SmokeFree
Educational Services, Inc. and founder of B.R.E.A.T.H.E. (Bar
and Restaurant Employees Advocating Together for a Healthy Environment).
Their arguments were simple: Cherner wanted a safe work environment
for all employees, whereas Sullum thought the government had no
right to tell a bar owner how to run his business.
Not as concerned with the
whys and why nots, I was at the debate to find out if there were
any groups that were formally forming to fight the ban. Kramer was
part of the audience and during the question and answer portion
he spoke about a group he had formed called E.X.H.A.L.E. (Ex Hospitality
Workers Already Losing Employment), which was his answer to B.R.E.A.T.H.E.
I didn't speak with Kramer
that night so I did do some research on E.X.H.A.L.E. I couldn't
find anything and decided to go to the Raven and check in with Kramer
himself. There, he let me in on a little secret: the group was a
"Yeah, I just said
that that night because I think Cherner is ridiculous," Kramer
said. "Y'know what? I found out he doesn't even live in New
York. After September 11th, he took off to live in Paris. And now
he's over there telling me how to run my business. How dare he."
Kramer obviously felt very
strongly about the issue and how it will affect his business. Though
E.X.H.A.L.E. was a made-up organization, he did tell me he has been
playing an active role opposing the law. He said that since August
he had been writing letters to his councilwoman, Margarita Lopez,
who was in fact one of the few council members who had voted against
the amendment. He also turned me onto a group called C.L.A.S.H.
(Citizens Lobbying Against Smoker Harassment) run by a city employee
named Audrey Silk.
that New York would put a law like this into effect during a time
when it's barely keeping its head above water financially,"
Kramer said. "It should be looking for ways to increase consumer
spending, not dissuade it. I think it should even go the opposite
way all together and create a red light district with casinos and
On the other hand, Kramer
said, this could be a way for the city to increase revenues through
increased ticketing. He said it's typical that during times of economic
distress the city increases the number of parking tickets it gives
out. In fact, he said, the City recently stopped allowing free parking
Kramer went on to quote
a recent episode of the Penn
and Teller: BULLSH*T! show on Showtime where they tackled this
subject. On that show Penn noted that the data provided on the Environmental
Protection Agency report that organizations like B.R.E.A.T.H.E.
use to prove that second hand smoke is harmful was severely manipulated
and the true data shows that the number of cases are so few that
they can't be figured into accurate statistics.
The medical side of the
argument was why Lopez voted against the amendment, she said.
"Smoking is a chemical
addiction," Lopez said. "And to cut the public off without
any contingency plans for the addicts or the bar owners is just
Lopez said she favored
the idea of ridding the city of the tobacco epidemic, but not with
such a black and white strategy. She felt that a staged approach
laced with incentives for business owners and money for cessation
plans would work better. However, because the amendment was introduced
by the Mayor, the Council did not have the power to alter the language
"I don't have all
the answers," Lopez said. "But I just find it strange
that the Mayor, who is so bent on forcing New Yorkers to quit, just
reallocated money away from programs to help people quit."
She alluded to $13 million that the City won from a class action
law suit against the tobacco industry that was taken and given to
the Department of Education. The Mayor's office would not comment
Kramer said there could
still be a glimmer of hope. He received a
letter from the Department of Health about a hearing they are
going to have on March 7th to discuss "repealing and reenacting"
the law. The letter states that because the amendment alters the
original law so drastically, that adopting it as an amendment is
unlawful. Rather, the correct process is to repeal the law and to
vote in a completely new law.
Silk, who established C.L.A.S.H.
in January of 2000 in response to Governor Pataki raising the tax
on cigarettes, plans to attend the March meeting too. But she doesn't
feel that it will change anything. Silk is a New York City police
officer and she noted that the city will have a tough time enforcing
"It's rumored that
the Department of Health hired 12 new inspectors who will work off
hours and conduct impromptu inspections," Silk said. But it
will not be the responsibility of the police to give out tickets.
Still, Kramer said that
come March 30, he will comply with the law.
"I think it's terrible
that the city is putting the burden on me," Kramer said. "But
I think the inspectors will hit hard in the beginning and make examples
of the first few bars that are in violation. One of Cherner's right
hand guys has already been hounding me saying that he's going to
come to my bar with a bunch of people to celebrate the law. I'm
not sure if he's coming on the 29th at midnight, I hope not. I'm
planning a smoke out party that night so all my patrons can smoke
till their heart's content."
The day after the law goes
into effect, Silk and C.L.A.S.H. are planning a night out at a famous
steak house in Hoboken, NJ.
"I think a lot of
New York bar business will move across the river," Silk said.
"New Jersey will definitely benefit."
As far as planned demonstrations
against the ban, both Kramer and Silk agree that there probably
won't be much activity.
"Most smokers are
still in denial," Silk said.
"It's just not in
their nature. Smokers are generally more laid back," Kramer
said. "And in these days with the war and environmental issues,
I almost feel guilty protesting something silly like this."