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Michael Fitzpatrick kicks back in his office, amid 16 other Erie County legislators who soon will ban smoking in most public places, and lights up his two packs a day.


Fitzpatrick, a Democratic county legislator from South Buffalo, has no special privileges. He simply is demonstrating a loaned, glass-paneled booth that gobbles up smoke-filled air faster than he and his secretary, Bridget Robinson, create it.

Fitzpatrick described the new ReFresh Air unit as the possible answer to the smoker's dilemma in a world that increasingly limits smoking and second-hand smoke. In fact, Fitzpatrick is one of the legislators who plan to ban or severely limit most indoors smoking except for private homes in Erie County by Jan. 1.

"It's great," said Fitzpatrick. "You can't smell smoke in here."

Some who encountered the new contemporary-looking enclosure for the first time burst into a spontaneous: "Beam me up Scottie." Others compared it to the booth in "The $64,000 Question."

Majority Leader Albert DeBenedetti, D-Buffalo, quipped:

"Step in. Have a cigarette or take a shower."

An aide and non-smoker, Cheryl Ippolito, joined a committed smoker in the cubicle.

"I couldn't smell the smoke," she confirmed. That is because the unit utilizes ozone to break down the contaminants of tobacco smoke.

Four filters collect the carbon dioxide and nicotine through tubing connected to four ashtrays. Two or three smokers can puff away together and -- as Ms. Ippolito showed -- can include a non-smoker.

"Ozone destroys the cigarette smoke and kills it," said co-inventor Irwin Rothschild. There is also no sign of nicotine in the air outside the booth, he said.

A self-styled "backyard mechanic," Rothschild and a partner, Theodore Arts, developed ReFresh Air over the last six months. Veterans of the vending machine business, they plan to manufacture 1,000 ReFresh Air cubicles a month by the end of November.

Fitzpatrick sees installation of a cubicle, expected to sell for about $3,000 each, as the answer to trips to the steps of County Hall for smoking breaks.

"Everyone can come in here to smoke -- and get guidance."

Arts and Rothschild, who call their company I.T.M. (Irv Rothschild, Ted Arts, Michael Redmond) built their first mock-up after a smoking neighbor complained that he no longer felt able to fly because of restrictions at airports. Rothschild is also a third-generation co-owner of Rothschild wholesale tobacco.

Rothschild and Arts live in Williamsville. But I.T.M., when it gets into full production, will probably operate in Buffalo.

"Hopefully, we'll create 25 jobs in Buffalo," said Rothschild.

They have come a long way from their first model, which was plywood.

The partners tested variations in material, standing or sitting inside with each other or with their wives. Their first test model is for standing smokers.

"You can put a chair in no problem," said Rothschild.

An enclosed restaurant-style booth, with seating on both sides, is in the works.

I.T.M. hired an Orchard Park environmental testing firm to run tests on the unit in a heavy smoke atmosphere.

"We brought the carbon monoxide level down to two parts per million," said Rothschild. "Under the federal standard, 24 parts are acceptable."

Cindy Ersing, the environmental consultant, conducted the testing for the environmental firm, OSEA Inc., Occupational Safety and Environmental Associates. She is waiting final analysis by a laboratory.

The owner of OSEA, Gina Coniglio, said preliminary test results show that the air filtered through the unit is "clean and breathable."

A sensor activates the cleaning system when someone enters, or it can be turned on full time, Rothschild said. He estimates the cost of electricity as about the same as two fluorescent bulbs.

Three small filters are changed every three months and a larger one, every six to nine months.

Hillary Clarke, field director of the smoking control program of Roswell Park Cancer Institute, said the purpose of the pending county law is to protect non-smokers from the dangers of second-hand smoke.

"If this accomplishes the same goal, we would support it," she said.

Fitzpatrick, whose wall is adorned with a blow-up of actor James Dean smoking, said he may propose that the county acquire booths for County Hall, where smokers now go outside.

"You don't want to have people getting colds and taking off for sick leave," he said.

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