Sunday, February 06, 2005

The New York Times: In Barrooms, Smoking Ban Is Less Reviled 

Back in 2002, when the City Council was weighing Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg's proposal to eliminate smoking from all indoor public places, few opponents were more fiercely outspoken than James McBratney, president of the Staten Island Restaurant and Tavern Association.

He frequently ripped Mr. Bloomberg as a billionaire dictator with a prohibitionist streak that would undo small businesses like his bar and his restaurant. Visions of customers streaming to the legally smoke-filled pubs of New Jersey kept him awake at night.

Asked last week what he thought of the now two-year-old ban, Mr. McBratney sounded changed. "I have to admit," he said sheepishly, "I've seen no falloff in business in either establishment." He went on to describe what he once considered unimaginable: Customers actually seem to like it, and so does he.

By many predictions, the smoking ban, which went into effect on March 30, 2003, was to be the beginning of the end of the city's reputation as the capital of grit. Its famed nightlife would wither, critics warned, bar and restaurant businesses would sink, tourists would go elsewhere, and the mayor who wrought it all would pay a hefty price in the polls. And then there were those who said that city smokers, a rebellious class if ever there was one, simply would not abide.

But a review of city statistics, as well as interviews last week with dozens of bar patrons, workers and owners, found that the ban has not had the crushing effect on New York's economic, cultural and political landscapes predicted by many of its opponents.
Dr. Frieden credits the apparent success of the new smoking rules here with encouraging other seemingly unlikely places to follow suit, or at least to consider doing so. Among them are Boston, Virginia, Australia, Ireland and Italy. Last week, the City Council in Philadelphia began reviewing a newly proposed bill to make bars and restaurants smoke-free.

The councilman who introduced the bill in Philadelphia, Michael A. Nutter, cited New York as an inspiration. "This is kind of the epitome of the song: 'If you can make it there,' " he said in an interview. "What people are saying is, 'If New York can deal with clean-air legislation, why can't we?' "
Jason Sitek, 31, said he had similarly begun to enjoy the ban, even if smoke-free bars subtract from what he used to think a New York City bar should be. "The whole nature of New York City and the bar is you can go into a smoky atmosphere," he said. "It's like Disney World now."

Still, he said, smoke-free bars have their advantages. "You realize you stop stinking, you don't smell like an ashtray," he said on Tuesday night as he smoked outside Spike Hill, a bar in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn.

"I'm all for it. My dry-cleaning bill's gone way down," said John Payne, 36, who was smoking on Tuesday night outside Toad Hall, in SoHo. "And I'm smoking less."

A friend, Bill Cauclanis, 29, said, "There's a secondary scene now outside of bars - a smoker's scene."

He added: "You can meet a girl out here. Strike up a conversation."

The New York Times > New York Region > In Barrooms, Smoking Ban Is Less Reviled


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