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Will It Come to a Smoking License for Restaurants?

Editor’s Letter

Will It Come to a Smoking
License for Restaurants?

Last month, by a two-to-one margin, Florida voters agreed to ban smoking in nearly all indoor workplaces. One of the few exceptions was "stand-alone bars," meaning bars not located in restaurants. The city of Chicago is currently considering a similar law.

New York City is also considering a smoking ban, but one that would mirror a stricter
version that took effect in California back in 1998. The California law bans smoking in all public workplaces, including stand-alone bars.

Currently in New York City, a restaurant must set aside 85% of its seating for non-smokers. If Mayor Michael Bloomberg has his way, there will no longer be smoking sections in restaurants and bars.

The proposal irks famed restaurateur Elaine Kaufman, who expressed her displeasure in a New York Times op-ed piece last month. She says existing laws allowing smoking sections in restaurants are working. If smoking is banned, she wrote, customers will no longer have a choice and it will hurt tourism.

" . . . I, for one, don’t want to give tourists, especially international travelers, one more reason for not coming to New York. Yet the Bloomberg administration wants us restaurateurs to tell them that if they want a cigar or cigarette after dinner, no go. Can we afford to lose this business? I don’t think so."

Kaufman, who owns the legendary celebrity hangout Elaine’s, says a compromise is needed because restaurateurs want to keep doing business, while the city wants to protect people from second-hand smoke. Her compromise, based on the city’s need to financially offset budget deficits, involves the creation of a smoking license for restaurants, hotels and bars.

"It would be similar to a liquor license. For let’s say $1,500 or $2,000 a year, a restaurateur, hotelier or bar owner could obtain a license for each of its venues. With the license, we would simply maintain the current smoking laws, which confine smoking to the bar area in all restaurants with more than 35 seats."

Kaufman says those who pay for the license would post a sign out front letting people know they’re entering a smoking establishment. "And here’s a grown up idea: Let people make their own decision about whether to enter."

As for employees of smoking-allowed restaurants, it’s their choice to continue working there or not. Since not all restaurants will choose to be a smoking establishment, they could choose to work elsewhere.

Kaufman explained in her editorial that since there are 20,000 places to eat and drink in New York City’s five boroughs, the city would make about $40 million from establishments that pay for the smoking license. If you throw in hotels, the city’s take would be even greater. Even if only half of the places apply for a license, its still a "healthy" profit, she concludes.

So, what do you think? Is it a desperate plan for desperate times?Or does it make sense?You pay fees for all sorts of other licenses. In either case, the tide is turning against smoking in this country. As Kaufman says in her editorial, this is the hospitality business and as owners you’d much rather say "yes" than "no" to a customer. Cities and states are taking away that option. Do you have to bribe them to look the other way?


EDITOR-IN-CHIEF [email protected]

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