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Residents voice support for Mayor’s smoking ban

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Queens residents came out Saturday morning in Flushing to sound off about Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposed ban on smoking in restaurants and bars, with most registering support for the idea while railing against smoking’s health risks.

City Councilman John Liu (D-Flushing) oversaw this weekend’s town hall meeting on the proposed smoking ban at the Flushing branch of the Queensborough Public Library, which attracted between 80 and 100 people.

In August Bloomberg submitted legislation for the Indoor Smoke-Free Air Act of 2002 to the City Council, a bill which prohibits smoking in restaurants, bars, offices, pool halls, bingo parlors, bowling alleys and other indoor areas.

The majority of the roughly 20 to 30 people who testified at the Flushing meeting pointed to the dangers of smoking and secondhand smoke with little attention to the specifics of Bloomberg’s proposed smoking ban.

Only one person, Flushing bar owner Don Capalbi, protested the smoking ban.

“The issue is not whether smoking is a good idea,” said Capalbi, who owns College Green Pub on Kissena Boulevard. “We should not be a society where the majority imposes their will on everyone.”

But most speakers voiced concerns similar to those of Baysider Joe Weaver, who runs a Web site called www.cigarettesmokingkills.com and identified himself as a representative of a group called Alliance for a Smoke-Free Queens.

“Each time I started again it was in a bar because alcohol and cigarettes go so well together,” said Weaver, describing his failed attempts to quit smoking.

Weaver said he enjoyed going out to bars and clubs but not the secondhand smoke.

“Why is it I have to breathe other people’s smoke?” he said. “I hope this law will pass.”

John Henry Byas, a 27-year resident of Flushing and former smoker, said the ban was important to help prevent young people from picking up the nicotine habit.

Byas, a cancer survivor who helps run an afternoon program at IS 237, said “you should see the young kids out on the street smoking.”

Cindy Lin, a Girl Scout troop leader, agreed and said as the girls in her troop begin to take jobs it becomes harder to convince them that smoking is a health risk.

Schools are another problem, she said.

It is difficult to teach youngsters about smoking risks, Lin said, “when a lot of them see the teachers out on the school steps smoking.”

While several other people spoke to the health risks associated with smoking for youths, Ming-der Chang, executive director of the American Cancer Society’s Chinese Unit, said Bloomberg’s legislation would protect workers, an argument used by the mayor to tout the ban.

“The bill should be passed intact and quickly,” Chang testified. “The health impact of this bill is tremendous. Being a bartender or waitress is not a crime and should not carry a death sentence.”

In pointing out how widespread smoking is in Flushing’s Asian community, Chang was also one of several people to quote a 2001 city Health Department study which said 68 percent of Chinese men in Flushing smoke, compared to a citywide average of under 25 percent.

“Now is the time to protect our workers in the city, especially those in our community,” she said.

Reach reporter Kathianne Boniello by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 157.

Updated 7:25 pm, October 10, 2011
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