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New York's smoking ban is a boon for out-of-state bars and rest

Sunday, August 3, 2003

SUGARGROVE, Pa. -- At a bar two miles south of the New York line, Roxann Lang took a drag from her cigarette, exhaled and smiled -- she knew no one was going to tell her to put it out.

Like other New York residents who enjoy a smoke with their drink or meal but can't because of that state's new law, Lang, 46, and her husband have decided to trade their Jamestown, N.Y., bar for one in northern Pennsylvania.

Since the ban went into effect, bars and restaurants along the New York state line say they have seen more New Yorkers looking to light up, creating a boon for establishments in Massachusetts, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

New York's statewide smoking ban became law July 24, following a New York City ban. In addition to bars, restaurants and nightclubs, the state ended smoking in off-track betting parlors, bowling alleys and company cars. The ban is among the toughest in the nation.

Some New York smokers, like the Langs, have simply left the state for more hospitable locations.

"We're going to make a habit of it because we won't go to any bar where you can't smoke," said Rick Lang, 52.

Immediately after New York City's ban went into effect, New Jersey restaurants near the Big Apple experienced a spike in business, said Deborah Dowdell, executive vice president of the New Jersey Restaurant Association.

That trend is expected to expand with the statewide ban, Dowdell said.

"Our members have reported a surge in business," Dowdell said. "We're in close dialogue with leading restaurateurs in New York City and they continue to report their sales have suffered as much as 20 to 50 percent."

Liz Stirling, owner of Oddfellows in Hoboken, N.J., said more commuters who used to stay in New York City's financial district for happy hour are now heading straight across the Hudson River.

New Jersey law allows smoking in restaurants if they post signs saying they have a smoking section. However, Stirling said she fears her lawmakers will follow their New York counterparts by toughening New Jersey anti-smoking laws.

"I'm not opposed to having a smoking and nonsmoking section to accompany everybody, but I'm definitely not for a total ban," Stirling said.

In Pennsylvania, business owners are welcoming the exodus. For example, smokers who frequented bars in Windsor, N.Y., are now sampling establishments in Susquehanna, Pa., about seven miles away.

Christine Foote, owner of Rebel's Bar in Susquehanna, said a New York couple stopped in Thursday for the first time and were pleased to find out they could smoke.

"The minute they came in they said, 'Oh, look we can smoke,"' Foote said. "They were telling me about the laws. It was the first time I saw them."

With smokers making up 90 percent of her customers, Foote said many local residents are choosing not to dine or drink in Binghamton, N.Y. Instead, they're staying in Pennsylvania.

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