NJ Smoking Ban Has Business Owners Fuming

By Jeff McKay | July 7, 2008 | 8:31pm EDT

(CNSNews.com) - New Jersey's smoking ban, the 11th such prohibition in the nation, puts a stop to smoking inside public places -- all except the casinos of Atlantic City.

New Jersey's ban on lighting up includes restaurants and bars, public transit areas, sports facilities including race tracks and bowling alleys, health-care facilities, parking areas, lobbies, bingo parlors, malls, all public schools and school grounds, theaters, clubs, concert halls, museums and libraries.

"It is one of the most significant public health measures in our state's history. Banning smoking where people work, where they eat and drink, where they shop and where they gather to be entertained is clearly in the public interest," said Fred Jacobs, commissioner of New Jersey's Department of Health and Senior Services.

Casino floors, cigar bars or lounges, tobacco retailers, private homes and private cars are all exempt, along with hotels and motels, which can permit smoking in 20 percent of guest rooms. Gamblers can light up while playing slot machines or poker and even at casino floor restaurants and bars, but not at the bar or eatery directly across the street.

Non-Atlantic City casino establishments have been very vocal about the ban, criticizing it as holding a double-standard where casinos come into play. Other business owners statewide believe the ban is hypocritical, saying that not encompassing all is unfair to them, which is why a coalition took the ban to court to stop it before it started.

The smoking ban, however, survived a final hurdle in federal court despite the omission of casinos in the ban.

New Jersey's gaming industry was spared due to concerns that smokers would abandon Atlantic City, which would cut into tourism and casino profits for a state that relies on tax money from the casinos for its beleaguered budget.

Violations of the ban include fines ranging from $250 to $1,000. However, officials believe it will be largely self-enforced by business owners and the public, and they do not plan to send inspectors out to catch them.

New Jersey bars and restaurants that border New York saw their business increase when New York's smoking ban took effect. Now, those same establishments expect to lose their across-the-border clientele since the ban on lighting up will be the same in both states.

Other businesses will have to play "wait-and-see."

"For my health, it's great since I don't smoke, but even though I'm a non-smoker, I do not agree with the ban. We should have the opportunity to make that business decision for ourselves," said David O'Brien, co-owner of The Merchant, an upscale bar and eatery in Jersey City across the Hudson River from New York City.

"We were a fairly smoky bar, and we may lose 10-20 percent of our business. However, there is the possibility that non-smokers may come out more," O'Brien added.

Another point of contention for business owners is a proposed ban on smoking up to 25 feet away from the building's entrance, which could be added to the present law and is still being debated. This would mean smokers would have to not just step outside to smoke, but walk 25 feet down the street.

"It's a little vague, and it's definitely not fair to not include casinos. I don't know all of the parameters (of the new law). The only rules I've heard have come from the news. We may lose a few patrons," said O'Brien.

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