Clean City, Clean Air
New York City has long been known as the "city
that never sleeps," but much of the city's nightlife character
is slowly diminishing, from the shutdown of the peep shows in Times
Square to the gentrification of the once seedy East Village. For
all the nostalgic people sorry to see them go, there are many more
that have always seen them more as character flaws, and are overjoyed
at their disappearance. The latest action toward improvement is
led by Mayor Bloomberg and his move to turn the city's bars and
clubs into a smoke-free edens where people can work and play in
a healthy, toxic air-free environment. The law's been passed and
takes effect at the end of the month. But how did we get here and
by what good fortune?
Mayor Giuliani liked to leave his stamp on things,
and quality of life issues were high on his list. On January 10,
he signed into law the prohibition of smoking in most public spaces,
specifically restaurants, workplaces, schools and sports areas.
Of course bars and clubs were spared; separate smoking sections
were permitted as long as they met certain specifications; and smoking
at restaurant bars stayed kosher. Also exempted were restaurants
with seating of 35 or less. Business owners and smokers griped and
moaned at the time, but ever since the law took affect on April
10, 1995, New Yorkers have been enjoying meals out without the smoke
of a neighbor's cigarette wafting toward them and their dinner.
And the smokers of the city have had to choose between frequenting
the smaller restaurants where smoking is still permitted, being
served their meal at the bar, or opting for take-out.
Fast forward to 2002. Rudy's out, Mike's in. Continuing
with the ever popular quality of life issues, Mayor Bloomberg decided
Giuliani's Smoke-Free Air Act and take it a step further.
A confessed former smoker himself, Bloomberg, the City Council and
the Department of Health were all in agreement that the lives of
thousands of New Yorkers were at risk due to the harmful effects
of second-hand smoke, and that no smoking should take place virtually
anywhere. So on December 30, 2002, the mayor signed Local Law 47,
which reflects the changes. But since the amendments are so substantial,
a "repeal and reenactment" is required for the Department
of Health to be able to implement and enforce the changes. That
is slated to occur at 9:30am on Friday, March 7th at a hearing at
125 Worth St.
The legality of this manner of amending an act
is questionable to some legal scholars, but considering the popularity
of the move, and that fact that about 75 percent of New Yorkers
are non-smokers, little opposition is expected. No City Council
members have spoken out against the changes either. So the fact
remains that despite this last legal step, come March 30th, Giuliani's
law will encompass all bars and restaurants, including certain outdoor
areas as well.
On February 5th, a debate on the new law was held
by NPR's "Justice Talking" program. Representing the pro-ban
side 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). Cherner adamantly argued that this issue was about
the health rights of employees, as well as non-smoking patrons,
and cited various scientific studies charting the harmful effects
of second-hand smoke. One is from the Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention: "Tobacco use,
particularly cigarette smoking, is the leading preventable cause
of death in the United States, but the health consequences extend
beyond smokers to nonsmokers involuntarily exposed to environmental
tobacco smoke or secondhand smoke (SHS). Each year, an estimated
3,000 lung cancer deaths and 62,000 deaths from coronary heart disease
in adult nonsmokers are attributed to SHS. Among children, SHS causes
sudden infant death syndrome, low birthweight, chronic middle ear
infections, and respiratory illnesses (e.g., asthma, bronchitis,
Jacob Sullum, Senior Editor of Reason magazine,
represented the anti-ban side and saw the issue as an attack on
property rights, as well as an infringement on civil liberties.
an article for Reason he wrote, "The main point
of his smoking ban
is to make the habit less convenient and
less socially acceptable, thereby encouraging smokers to quit."
Sullum also referred to the over 1000 percent increase in the cigarette
tax by Bloomberg as a tactic to make smoking financially prohibitive
and less socially acceptable.
The main point made by Sullum and others opposing
the ban is that city government shouldn't tell business owners what
to do and how to conduct themselves. Sullum said he prefered that
the owner of the bar or restaurant choose whether to be smoke-free
or not, letting the patrons and the market influence the decision.
He also questioned the findings of referenced studies about the
effects of second-hand smoke. Cherner, to whom the New York City
Department of Health and Mental Hygiene's awarded their Annual Award
for Excellence, argued that bartenders and cocktail waiters and
waitresses are being poisoned by the second-hand smoke. He feels
that since those employees are usually confined to jobs in the service
industry due to limited education, the need for night jobs to pay
for school in the day, etc., it would be difficult for them to chose
not to work in a smoky environment and find work elsewhere.
He and the city government, as well as the health
department, feel the health risks are so great and the consequences
so marginal that amending the smoking ban to include bars and clubs
is the perfect solution to keep New Yorkers healthy. Non-smokers
are thrilled, as are some smokers who have been trying to quit and
are looking forward to being forced not to smoke.
One smoker is unhappy about the ban, but plans
to quit before March 30th. "I'm going to beat them to the punch,"
said 31-year-old Leah Furman. A smoker for 13 years, she sees the
ban as a good incentive to quit, something she's tried unsuccessfully
on her own many times. "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em,"
she said optimistically. That mentality is quite popular among those
smokers who aren't die-hard. They see this ban as something to help
them help themselves.
Non-smokers are expectedly happy. "I'm delighted,"
said 31-year-old Tom Buchanan, originally from New Zealand. "I
don't like coming home smelling like cigarettes," he said,
and added he finds the argument for protecting non-smoking employees
compelling. Buchanan hopes his girlfriend, who has been trying to
quit smoking, will be aided by the ban and said, "it's hardest
to quit when you're out drinking."
For business owners, smokers, and those
who simply don't want the government to tell them what to do, Sunday,
March 30th will be a landmark day of decisions. New Yorkers will
have to decide whether to enforce the ban, obey the ban, or rise
up to try to repeal the ban. Three weeks and counting