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As of today, smoking is banned in Boston bars, restaurants

Monday, May 5, 2003

BOSTON -- Ben Davis is bemoaning the loss of his favorite lunchtime activity, sitting down at Coogan's in downtown Boston for a martini and a cigarette.

"I probably won't be coming back here, and not just because I'm retiring," the 67-year-old stockbroker said as he sat in the bar last week.

As of today, smoking is banned at all indoor workplaces citywide, including some 700 bars, restaurants and nightclubs.

Watertown, Saugus and Framingham also are going smoke-free today, joining a growing number of cities around the country. New York City began enforcing its month-old smoking ban on Thursday. In Massachusetts, 77 communities have adopted total public smoking bans, and many others have partial bans.

Concerned about business

While public health officials, many nonsmokers and smokers alike say they'll appreciate the fresher air in Boston now, business owners and patrons are concerned about loss of business and ambiance, and what they feel is an infringement on their rights.

Business at restaurants and bars is already down because of the poor economy, says Bruce Potter, membership director of the Massachusetts Restaurant Association.

"This is the most terrible time for this to be going into effect," he said.

Restaurants often have profit margins of only 3 to 5 percent, Potter said, and they suffer greatly from even the smallest sale decrease. Many owners are also bristling at being told how to run their business, he said.

Under a 1998 regulation, Boston required restaurants to partition off smoking areas or place them at least six feet from eating areas. The new regulations ban smoking everywhere but outdoors and in private homes, hotel rooms and some cigar bars.

The Boston Public Health Commission has been handing out posters and coasters to publicize the change.

'April fresh'

"Tomorrow morning, your shirt will still smell April fresh," reads one coaster. Another asks bar patrons to think about "how many bartenders you'll save" by not smoking.

Eight public health commission inspectors will be making unannounced visits to ensure bars and nightclubs are following the new law and following up on complaints.

"Our intention is not to be the smoking police," said John Auerbach, executive director of the health commission. "We're just trying to make sure every employee at every workplace in this city is not exposed to something as dangerous and as carcinogenic as secondhand smoke."

Auerbach doesn't expect to see many problems with the enforcement of the ban, which mirrors legislation in California and New York City. In New York City, bars and restaurants that allow people to smoke can face hefty fines.

Dealing with safety

City police are prepared to deal with any safety issues that may arise, as well, Auerbach said.

Some Boston bar managers said they worry that banning smoking will create a hazard as groups of smokers huddle outside on sidewalks and in parking lots to smoke.

"I think it's going to end up being a real problem. You're not allowed to take liquor outside, and what happens outside, we can't control," Potter said.

At Mr. Dooley's bar in Boston's financial district, bartender John Brown, 64, says he's inhaled more than his share of smoke in his 40 years on the job. He says he looks forward to the smoke-free environment, but worries about losing business.

Smokers "will just seek other alternatives," such as bars in Cambridge or Quincy, Brown said.

The sentiment is often repeated by bar managers and employees.

"Just the ban wouldn't hurt business, if it hadn't been for the fact that it's only in the city," said Shane Waldron, bartender at The Avenue in Boston's Allston area. "It's going to hurt until they do it statewide."


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