(March 27, 2003) - ALBANY - Lawmakers approved a sweeping ban on smoking Wednesday after an unusually emotional and personal debate and a surprisingly lengthy fight in the Democrat-controlled Assembly.
If signed by Gov. George Pataki, the measure would ban smoking in workplaces, including almost all restaurants and bars. Supporters hailed it as a big advance for public health and protection of workers, while opponents assailed it as an infringement on personal rights and a hindrance to small businesses. Pataki aides have said he supports the idea and wants to review the specifics of the bill.
The bill sailed through the Republican-led Senate, passing 57 to 4, after Republicans voted for it even though some had expressed doubts earlier in the week. It was debated for more than two hours in the Assembly and eventually passed, 96 to 44.
Restaurant and bar owners in the Rochester area had mixed reactions to the smoking ban. Some said it will hurt business, while others said it will have the same impact on all owners.
“I don’t think it will have a negative impact because no one will have a competitive advantage,” said Jim Andres, owner of Mickey Finn’s in Victor, Ontario County.
John Giarratano, owner of Hitchcock’s on Merchants Road, said smokers often come to his bar just for that reason. So if they come to smoke and can’t, they may leave early or not come at all.
“Anytime you tell somebody they can’t do something they want to do, they are going to do something else or not hang around as long,” he said.
The bill has only a few exceptions where smoking would be allowed. They include private clubs, such as the American Legion, if they have no employees; cigar bars collecting at least 10 percent of revenue from tobacco sales; outdoor seating at restaurants; separate enclosed rooms for smokers at nursing homes and other health care centers; hotel rooms; and Indian-run casinos.
In the Senate, Majority Leader Joseph Bruno made an impassioned speech for the bill, saying he watched one of his closest friends die from a smoking-related illness.
“You know people right now who are dying from the effects of smoke,” Bruno, R-Brunswick, Rensselaer County, told colleagues. He added that more than 65,000 people each year die from the effects of second-hand smoke. “Health care, that’s what the issue is.”
All the Senate’s Republicans voted for the bill, except one who was absent, and just four Democrats from New York City opposed it.
In the Assembly, opponents said the bill went too far -- even barring state troopers from smoking in their police cars.
“This is anti-small business, anti-vet, anti-freedom, anti-farmer, anti-county because it’s pro-mandate. It doesn’t make sense,” said Assemblyman Patrick Manning, R-East Fishkill, Dutchess County. “I’d rather spend the money to educate people not to smoke than charge them $1,000.”
Business owners and smokers could be fined as much as $1,000 for violating the law.
The ban is stricter than smoking restraints passed by some local governments. In places with tighter controls, local laws take precedence.