I like to visit New York City. I enjoy the hustle and bustle, the interesting people, the sights, the food, and the night life.
Many other cities offer a similar degree of fun, excitement, good food, and intrigue, but with one notable difference: I can’t hang out at a bar or nightclub without leaving there smelling like a dirty ashtray.
The smoking ban in New York was introduced in March of 2003. It affects bars, restaurants, and other establishments such as pool halls and bingo parlors.
Now my hometown of Philadelphia is considering a similar ban, and neighboring New Jersey may be doing the same at a statewide level. I say let’s go for it.
Let me relax at a local bar with my friends on a Saturday night without having to shower as soon as I get home to remove the stench from my hair and skin. Let me enjoy an evening out on the town without the scratchy throat and the itching eyes. Give me a break from the exorbitant dry cleaning bills that I pay to get the smoke odors out of my suits, sweaters, and coats.
But enough about me. After all, I am just a customer, and I can choose to stay away from smoky bars. But consider the plight of restaurant and bar workers who have to endure a smoke-filled environment through every shift. If a factory had the air quality of the average bar on a Saturday night, OSHA would likely shut it down in an instant – and rightly so. Is it not unethical to expose employees to such an unhealthy environment? We see class action lawsuits being filed all the time on behalf of employees whose health has suffered from working in asbestos laden buildings. When will hospitality workers be similarly compensated for their forced exposure to dangerous cigarette, cigar, and pipe smoke? Better yet, let’s just give them a break.
Smokers who oppose the ban often claim that they have a right to smoke. Excuse me, but their rights end where the next person’s rights begin. Smokers have every right to smell bad if they want to. They have a right to destroy their own lungs, and they have a right to yellow fingers and teeth. But they do not have a right to force me to ingest their smoke, and they do not have the right to endanger the health of the bartenders and waitstaff who serve them. It is rude at best, and perhaps reckless endangerment at worst.
Bar and restaurant owners who oppose these bans fear that they’ll lose customers if their patrons are not allowed to smoke. However, similar fears by their New York counterparts have proven to be unfounded.
An analysis of the New York smoking ban by that city’s health department showed that business and tax receipts in bars and restaurants were up by almost 9 percent after the first year of the ban. In addition, it showed that employment in such establishments had increased by over 10,000 jobs (the highest such increase in more than 10 years), along with an increase in alcohol licenses. This is undeniably great economic news for New York’s hospitality industry.
The study also found that New Yorkers are now breathing significantly cleaner air. One year after the ban took effect, levels of cotinine, a by-product of nicotine which is used to determine exposure to second-hand smoke, had decreased by 85 percent in non-smoking bars and restaurants.
These smoking bans are vitally important in terms of our health. Also, as demonstrated by the New York study, they will likely also boost business by attracting customers who, like me, prefer to avoid smoke-filled venues. And, perhaps best of all, it will give smokers another incentive to kick the habit and improve their own lives.
I encourage Philadelphia, New Jersey, and all other municipalities and state governments to follow through and implement these important measures. What do we have to lose but the soot in our lungs?