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New York Law to Stamp Out Most Public Smoking

Citing worker health, mayor signs one of the nation's toughest bans on lighting up in public.

December 31, 2002|John J. Goldman | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg on Monday followed California in signing one of the nation's most stringent antismoking laws.

The measure bans smoking in all restaurants, most bars and virtually all public places. It takes effect in 90 days.

"The bill puts New York City in the forefront of the global effort to protect workers from the deadly effects of secondhand smoke and to stop the epidemic of tobacco-related illnesses," the mayor said during a City Hall ceremony.

"Everybody knows the success of the California prohibition against smoking in bars and restaurants."

New York's law was passed after fierce opposition from the tobacco industry and some bar owners. These bar owners had claimed that their businesses would suffer, while some smokers argued that their civil rights would be violated.

But Bloomberg said Monday that the new law doesn't take away anyone's rights.

The mayor was forced to cut back his proposal for a complete smoking ban after he faced significant opposition in the City Council.

The result was a compromise. Unlike California and Delaware, which have all-encompassing statutes, New York's law contains exemptions.

Smoking will still be allowed in owner-operated bars with no employees, cigar bars and in separate rooms in bars with special ventilation systems and other safeguards. The law forbids employees from entering these rooms. Smoking also is permitted in private clubs with no workers.

"Today's bill signing is a historic event in New York City," the mayor said. "No one should have to choose between their health and their work."

The bill that Bloomberg signed expanded a 1995 law that banned smoking in restaurants containing more than 35 seats. That law allowed smoking in stand-alone bars, the bar areas of restaurants, private offices and in lounge areas of performance halls and sports arenas.

These and some other exemptions were eliminated. The new measure completely forbids smoking in all restaurants, office buildings, sports arenas, auditoriums, billiard and bingo halls, and bowling alleys.

A number of City Council members who supported the new legislation spoke along with Bloomberg at the ceremony.

But the most vivid language warning of the dangers of smoking came from Dr. Colin McCord, assistant commissioner for chronic disease and tobacco control at the city's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

"For more than 40 years before I took this job, I practiced surgery -- mostly chest surgery," the physician said. "During this span, at a conservative estimate, I have personally cared for more than a thousand persons dying from tobacco-related disease. Usually, there was nothing much the medical profession could do to help them.

"This story is not unusual. Most doctors who have practiced in the last 50 years have had a similar experience."

Health department statistics show that 10,000 New Yorkers die of tobacco-related causes each year. One thousand of these people died because of exposure to secondhand smoke. McCord said the health department conducted a survey this year which showed that 400,000 New Yorkers are exposed to secondhand smoke in the workplace.

Bloomberg gave up smoking cigarettes and cigars 17 years ago.

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