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SMOKE BATTLES
EFFORTS TO WEAKEN INDOOR SMOKING BAN OUGHT TO BE REJECTED

Bar and tavern owners may be upset about the passage of a new smoking ban, but that agitation doesn't outweigh the justification for this ban: the health and safety of workers and customers.

The bottom line never ought to overrule health considerations. And the current efforts of the Innkeepers Association of Western New York and other groups to alter or lessen the effectiveness of this legislation ought to be dismissed out of hand.

The State Legislature in March passed the bill outlawing most indoor smoking. It was quickly -- and rightly -- signed by the governor, and is scheduled to take effect July 24. It bans smoking in bars, restaurants, offices and covered outdoor patios. There are a few exceptions, such as Native American casinos, private clubs and state-registered cigar bars.

Groups lobbying to amend this important bill have not given up the fight. In fact, an amendment to the law has the signatures of a few Western New York legislators. It's hard to understand why they would want to forcibly expose some of their constituents to known carcinogens. One would think that the health and welfare of New Yorkers in these establishments would be a higher priority for them.

The legislation to weaken the smoking ban would allow separate smoking rooms and exemptions for bars that are tended only by the owner. But critics of the proposed legislation point out that those smoking rooms may not be properly ventilated. In addition, they point to a loophole where small ownership shares could be sold to employees to get around the owner-only provision.

The biggest fear of the bar and tavern owners is that they will lose business from the smoking ban. But the evidence from places that have instituted smoking bans is that it has had no effect on business, according to Russell Sciandra, director of the Center for a Tobacco Free New York. Of course, even if it did, that doesn't mean workers in those businesses do not deserve protection.

In any event, California studies showed a decline in the number of tavern customers long before a smoking ban was instituted, Sciandra said, adding that people's behavior had already begun to change. In other words, more people were demanding nonsmoking environments.

Tavern owners have only their fears to drive them on this issue. What they will find, however, is that they will now be able to attract a new type of patron -- one who will feel more comfortable going to a tavern where he can breathe clean air.

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