- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 11, 2003

ALBANY, N.Y., March 11 (UPI) — When the smoking ban in New York City restaurants and bars kicks in this month, the state may not be far behind, legislators said Tuesday.

"Extending the smoking ban statewide is being negotiated between the (New York State) Senate and Assembly," Mark Hansen, spokesman for Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, R-Brunswick, told United Press International. "Senator Bruno expects we can reach agreement during this session."

Assemblyman Alexander "Pete" Grannis, a Democrat from Manhattan, said he was optimistic the current law that requires that "non-smokers' needs be met — 70 percent of seats be non-smoking in restaurants — will be expanded to all indoor areas where people work or recreate," before the end of the legislative session.

"In 1988, New York state passed the most restrictive anti-smoking legislation in the country that required non-smoking sections in restaurants and the work place and none of the terrible things predicted happened," Grannis told UPI. "With New York City as well as Westchester and Nassau Counties all passing similar legislation banning smoking in restaurants and other counties such as Albany considering the same thing, it's time for the state to act."

Gov. George Pataki, a Republican, supports a statewide ban on smoking in public places if a bill passes the state Legislature, spokeswoman Suzanne Morris told UPI.

If the state does act, it will eliminate a loophole in the law that would allow seven restaurants and bars within Grand Central Station in New York City to be an oasis of smoking in a city of banned smoking.

Because the Metropolitan Transportation Authority leases the Grand Central restaurants and bars, it's considered a state building and exempt from outside regulations.

Several of the eateries and bars in Grand Central are reported to be planning to expand their smoking sections to accommodate more smokers.

"If the state passes the new smoking ban in restaurants and bars it would supersede any local law so the Grand Central places would have to ban smoking," Grannis said. "They don't know more smokers will come to their establishment once the city ban is enacted on March 30, they could be overrun with non-smokers and under state law they'd have to be accommodated."

Of the two trade organizations, the larger one — the New York State Restaurant Association — is supporting the statewide ban. The other, the Empire State Tavern and Restaurant Association, is allegedly against the measure, Grannis said.

Despite New York City facing a deficit of $4 billion and the state facing a deficit of $12 billion, state legislators do not appear to be looking at the lost revenue from taxes imposed on cigarettes.

According to Grannis, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said he didn't care if the higher cigarette tax resulted in zero cigarette taxes for the city.

"We're looking at this primarily as a health and worker issue," Hansen said.

Neither the city of New York nor the state finance office could provide UPI with how much raising the cigarette tax has added to tax revenues or how much the added tax has hurt tax revenues because of decreased sales.

However, according to the Small Business Survival Committee, New York City's tobacco tax increase enacted last year, which raised the cigarette tax from 8 cents per pack to $1.50 per pack is costing tax revenue, business profits and jobs.

"According to our study, 88 percent of New York City stores say they've been hurt by the tax increase and total profits from the stores is down $127 million," SBSC President Darrell McKigney, told UPI. "The loss of profits translates into a loss of jobs."

The study indicates that while city businesses are losing profits because of the tax, the majority of people are continuing to smoke the same amount because they are buying cigarettes in neighboring states or online.

"The tax has driven sales out of the city, people are buying cigarettes in neighboring states, online or smuggled cigarettes," McKigney said. "We want the city to repeal the cigarette taxes because they are costing the city, small businesses have been hit hard and they are not achieving their aims."

According to the study, 67 percent of New York City smokers say they don't smoke any less than before the tax increase, 22 percent say they do smoke less because of the higher cost, and 7 percent say they actually smoke more now because the tax encourages them to buy in bulk.

"Twenty-two percent of people smoking less is a great result," Grannis said.

The study includes an econometric analysis by the Beacon Hill Institute and a survey conducted by the polling company inc. Funding for the study was provided by Philip Morris, USA, according to SBSC.

"There are a number of states right now looking to hike tobacco taxes to solve budget problems," McKigney said. "I hope leaders in those states will read this study and see that hiking tobacco taxes does tremendous harm to small businesses and their employees, with little of the benefits promised by proponents."

Last year, Bloomberg said he wanted the last bastions where smoking has been allowed — bars, smaller restaurants, pool halls, bingo parlors and bowling alleys — to become totally smoke free.

A survey commissioned by the New York City Coalition for a Smoke-Free City, the American Cancer Society, and the American Heart and Lung associations, found 86 percent of city residents said they would dine out as much or even more often in the event of a ban, and 72 percent would go to bars as much or more often.

The poll of 1,000 city residents was conducted last year by the research firm Global Strategy Group. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

According to Bloomberg, studies have shown that employees in bars and in restaurants where smoking is permitted have a 50 percent higher risk of lung cancer than other workers, even after taking their own smoking habits into account.

"Working one eight-hour shift in a smoky bar exposes one to the same amount of carcinogens as smoking half a pack of cigarettes a day," the Republican mayor said.

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