No 'Butts' About It: No Smoking in New York City

By Jeff McKay | July 7, 2008 | 8:04 PM EDT

( - Smokers in New York City won't be able to light up a cigarette at work, and after work, they won't be allowed to smoke in their favorite restaurant or bar, either.

By a vote of 42-7, the New York City Council - backed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg - enacted a smoking ban that ranks among the strictest in the nation. It applies to all city workplaces, including office buildings, bowling alleys, pool halls, and bingo parlors; and to most bars and restaurants.

Exemptions to the new smoking ban include a handful of cigar bars; designated sections of outdoor cafes; and bars that build enclosed, specially ventilated smoking rooms that employees would not be required to enter as part of their jobs. In addition, fraternal orders such as American Legion halls, nursing homes, and other residential facilities would be exempt.

Bloomberg, along with the majority of the City Council, believes the city's has an obligation to protect people, including restaurant and bar workers, from secondhand smoke.

"This bill is about protecting the health of employees in the city," said Council Speaker Gifford Miller (D-Manhattan). "People shouldn't have to choose between their health and their jobs."

Bloomberg said it's not just about business; it's also about saving lives.

"It will preserve lives, extend lives, save lives. In fact, it will almost certainly save more lives than any other proposal that will ever come before this chamber," Bloomberg said during City Council hearings in October.

Critics of the smoking ban say it will diminish their individual rights, hurt tourism and cut into the business of bars, restaurants, and nightclubs.

"The reality is that the small establishments, like the ones in my community, cannot withstand eight months to recoup the money that will be lost," said Council Member Dennis Gallagher (R-Queens) during the hearings.

Gallagher was one of the seven council members who voted against the measure.

"My boss is freaking out. He says this will put him out of business," according to Penny Chirachella of Brooklyn who works in a Manhattan bar. "I don't smoke, and I really don't mind the smoke too much, but I think this will hurt businesses. We barely survived having to close down after 9/11."

According to the City Council, nearly 14,000 bars, restaurants and other establishments are covered by the new provisions, which sets the maximum fine for a smoking infraction at $1,000.

Before the hearings took place, some protesters smoked cigarettes on the steps of City Hall while others carried a 12-foot cardboard tube fashioned into a giant cigarette.

"It's just another way the government gets into your business and tells you what to do," said Craig Barmash, one of the people protesting the ban at City Hall. "All this mayor has done is raise our taxes, raise my rent, and soon he'll be costing me more to take the subway. Now I guess he wants to tell us how to live our lives, too."

Mayor Bloomberg, himself a former smoker who led the campaign for the smoking ban in the name of employee health, will sign the bill into law next week. The anti-smoking ban will take effect at the end of March.