Boro bar workers oppose mayor’s smoking ban bill

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Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has launched a campaign to ban smoking from most businesses, including bars, restaurants of all sizes and pool halls in a move that has bartenders and bar managers throughout Queens up in arms.

Joined by numerous public officials and prominent figures from the New York restaurant industry, Bloomberg Monday touted his proposed New York City Indoor Smoke-Free Air Act of 2002 as a measure that would create a safer environment for people subjected to second-hand smoke in the workplace.

“No one should have to breathe poison to hold a job or frequent an indoor public space,” Bloomberg said.

The bill, designed to protect workers in bars, restaurants and many other indoor occupations throughout the city from hand smoke, was scheduled to go before the City Council Thursday.

Many bartenders in the borough, who fear the ban would cause their businesses to suffer, said they were fully aware of the prevalence of second-hand smoke in bars when they entered the field.

“You choose that profession,” said Jim Scott, a bartender at Bellview Bar and Grill at 39-24 Bell Blvd. in Bayside. “If you choose that atmosphere and that job, (second-hand smoke) is part of it.”

Dennis Keane, manager of Dan Foley’s Pub at 81-01 Myrtle Ave. in Glendale, said if the legislation is passed, it will be difficult for bars to obey the law.

“I think this is forcing bars and restaurants to break the law,” Keane said. “There is no way to stop people from smoking in bars. (Bars) will lose too much business.”

Keane also said he fears the ban would send about half of his customers who smoke across the nearby border into Nassau County bars.

Supporters of the bill point to studies conducted in California, which has had a statewide public smoking ban since 1998, to show that the restrictions will have no negative economic effect and could even have a positive one.

“The biggest and best indicator we have is the studies from California,” said Dan Klotz, spokesman for the American Cancer Society in Manhattan. “Tax revenue for every type of restaurant and bar has gone up since 1998, including stand-alone bars (that do not serve food). And if tax revenue has gone up, then business must be good, because no one exaggerates their tax receipts.”

Revenue has grown at California bars each year since 1998, the American Cancer Society said.

Manhattan resident and smoker T.J. Bailey, 40, frequents Bayside bars, but said he will spend less time in them if the bill passes.

“I would definitely leave dinner earlier,” Bailey said. “Or, I would stay outside longer and buy less.”

Peter Rider, chief of staff for Councilwoman Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan), chairwoman of the health committee, said she supports the bill and hopes to pass it through her committee quickly so it can be presented to the entire Council as soon as possible.

Some bar workers are also concerned that a ban on smoking inside the bar will lead to problems outside.

“It will create a pollution problem on the streets and a traffic jam on the sidewalks,” said Peggy Dabraccio, a bartender at First Edition on 41-08 Bell Blvd. in Bayside. “I’m sure it would upset my neighbors.”

Maria Sebasgos, manager of Nitro Cafe & Bar at 32-18 Steinway St. in Astoria, compared the bill’s potential effects to the era in her youth when the drinking age was 18 in New York and 21 in Connecticut.

“People used to come into New York to drink” from Connecticut, Sebasgos recalled. “If this passes, people will go to bars outside the city.”

Smokers Kerry Breen and Robert Bradley, both Bayside residents, believe bar owners alone should decide if their bars are smoke-free and said the law has come down too hard on smokers recently.

“If you don’t smoke, don’t go into the bartending business,” Breen said. “If you’re a bar owner and you don’t want people to smoke in your bar, open a non-smoking bar.”

Bradley said the bill, along with the recent tax increase on cigarettes, comes from prejudice against smokers.

“Smokers are persecuted in this country,” he said. “You can’t act like someone who smokes is committing a criminal act.”

Updated 7:16 pm, October 10, 2011
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