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PANEL TO AIR REVISED VERSION OF SMOKING LAW

A revised version of the county's anti-smoking law will receive its first public discussion at Thursday's Board of Health meeting at 4:30 p.m. in the Guillemont Building at Mount View Health Facility.

The County Legislature's Health Services Committee, headed by Legislator Lee Simonson, R- Lewiston, will review the proposal next Wednesday.

If it passes that committee, the measure will go to the full Legislature, which will set a hearing date and eventually vote on the law.

A special committee of legislators, Health Department representatives, and business owners began work in early February on revising the text of a law that was the subject of a Jan. 20 public hearing.

Committee member John Martino, owner of Kelly's Korner, a Niagara Falls restaurant, said, "It's a compromise that protects the smoker and the businesses."

The Health Board was planning a total ban on public smoking in the county last year, but was persuaded to turn the matter over to the Legislature. The board has the power to include a total smoking ban in the county sanitary code, which it writes and enforces through the Health Department.

However, it cannot take economic considerations into account. Courts have ruled that only an elected legislative body can pass a smoking law that makes exceptions for different types of businesses.

Simonson said the text still does not regulate smoking in bars, defined as "places that do 60 percent of their business in selling alcohol over the bar."

In restaurants, smoking will be allowed in no more than 30 percent of the seating area until Dec. 1, 1999, when all restaurant dining areas will become smoke-free.

However, Simonson noted that fully enclosed smoking rooms, including restaurant dining rooms, are allowed. Smoking rooms may not cover more than half the seating capacity of the eatery, and must not include the sole route to the exit or the restrooms.

Martino expressed concern about "coffee shops." He said such places are not bars, and are usually too small to establish a smoking room. Thus, smoking will be banned there in December 1999. Simonson said restaurants that also have bars may allow smoking within 15 feet of the bar, as long as the bar is not the only customer waiting area. The smokers must be separated from the dining area by a 4-foot space or a floor-to- ceiling wall.

And if the bar is the only waiting area, Simonson said, "They can ask for a waiver."

The law still sets up a five-member committee to consider temporary or permanent waivers to any of its provisions, based primarily on economic hardship.

The provision that banned smoking in home-based businesses has been dropped, Simonson said. Other changes from the January version include:

Softening the restrictions on smoking in bowling establishments.

Scrapping the provision that called for all smoking to be banned if anyone under 18 years old was in the building.

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