NY smoke ban spells danger

Related tags Smoking ban New york city New york

New York bar owners have seen business drop by as much as 50% since a smoking ban was introduced in the city at the start of April. News editor The...

New York bar owners have seen business drop by as much as 50% since a smoking ban was introduced in the city at the start of April. News editor The PMA Team travelled to the Big Apple to find out what troubles could loom ahead for UK licensees For New York's besieged bar owners Mayor Michael Bloomberg is public enemy number one. A complete smoking ban in the city's bars and restaurants introduced four monnths ago has led to a dramatic fall-off in business as smokers drink less or stay away. After an unusually wet June, this month has seen the usual intense heat of mid-summer descend on the city. But bar owners have been hot under the collar for the past four months as Bloomberg's blanket ban has resulted in a nose-dive in takings ­ and sparked lay-offs aplenty among bar staff. And bar owners across New York state are bracing themselves this week as the smoking ban was imposed by the state legislature. "Bloomberg passed the legislation to protect bar staff from passive smoking," says Cieran Staunton, owner of O'Neill's Irish bar in mid-town Manhattan. "Now a lot of staff have clean air ­ but no jobs." Some bars and restaurants have already been forced to close. Alonzo's was one of the first to shut its doors as smokers from the nearby United Nations building in mid-town, a large part of its lunch-time trade, stayed away. Some bars report a staggering 50% drop in takings. The majority of New York's traditional wet-led bars report a still-frightening 20% to 30% fall-off in business. Bar owners admit the wettest June in 100 years hasn't help business, but blame the smoking ban for this fundamental fall-off in business. Exact location in the city dictates when bars are feeling the pinch. For the mid-town bars in the centre of the city's commercial districts, the normally busy lunch-times and post-work sessions are the trading times that are seeing the worst declines. For more residential areas like Greenwich Village and boroughs such as Queens, evenings normally bring the busiest sessions and, consequently, see the biggest dents in trade. Those bars that have a good food trade or can offer smokers good external facilities ­ benches or a patio area ­ see business hold up better than most. Bloomberg's smoking ban allows bars to turn over 25% of their outside ta-bles to smokers. But, even here, there are strict regulations. Tables, for example, have to be a minimum of three feet apart. Karyn Seltzer, general manager of the Telephone Bar and Grill, says: "In my bar, 25% of tables amounts to two tables. It's not worth the hassle of turning just two tables over to smokers ­ so we're not bothering at all." The law is enforced with a fine system ­ $200 to $400 for the first offence and up to $1,000 dollars for the second and third offence. A third offence carries the risk of a licence revocation. By mid-May, 10 bars had been ticketed, which seems to have had the effect of quickly bringing the city's bar industry in line. Craig Weiss, who owns bars in Soho, Greenwich Village and Tribeca, states: "We have made too big an investment in our bars to take a risk on losing our licences." Bar owners were told by Mayor Bloomberg and others that the smoking ban might benefit them by attracting new customers previously put off by thick smoke. The owners refer to this group as "theoretical customers", who have simply not materialised. One West Village bar owner says: "We've lost 15 real regulars who would sit at the bar for hours. And, at best, there's been three new customers." Bar owners, and their staff, express a genuine bewilderment that the smoking ban could have been introduced in New York, one of the most liberal cities in the world. Barmaid Tabitha Graysing says: "It's quite an odd thing to come to New York ­ one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world. Whether you smoke should be a personal choice here ­ not a mandatory law with great repercussions." New York's hospitality industry is estimated to be worth $10.2bn a year. It is, of course, too early to calculate the precise economic fallout of the smoking ban. But, already, the industry's suppliers are counting the cost ­ brewers, food suppliers, air ventilation equipment manufacturers and, not surprisingly, matchbook producers are seeing business dip or disappear. "There is a massive knock-on effect," says one bar owner. "The liquor suppliers did not even involve themselves in our campaign to prevent this ­ they just didn't see this coming." For the bar industry, the economic consequences of the smoking ban follows sharp on the heels of a host of setbacks. Many admit they were already suffering a downturn in the wake of 11 September and from a generally sluggish economy. In addition, there have been been rising city and property taxes, increased licensing charges, De-partment of Health fees and larger water and utilities bills. Sounds familiar, eh? Bar owners are convinced the smoking ban has brought changes in the way and the frequency with which people socialise. They point to smokers coming and quickly going from their bars, the change in atmosphere, and a general loss of customers. They regret that the City has forced them into becoming "smoke police", who have to chivvy and nag customers to go outside to smoke. And the Law of Unin-tended Consequences has come into play, especially at late night bars licensed until 3am or 4am. New York is a "vertical city" where people mostly live in apartments, cheek by jowl with bars and nightclubs. John Griffin, who has run the Ear Inn in Greenwich Village for 15 years, says: "People are smoking and drinking on the street ­ and neighbours are complaining." There are many reports of those smoking and drinking in the street involved in heated arguments with tired neighbours. "The fear is that, to stop this, opening hours will be wound back," adds Staunton.

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