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It has been a year since a ban on smoking in public places was implemented in New York and mixed messages are being sent across the pond. Michelle...

It has been a year since a ban on smoking in public places was implemented in New York and mixed messages are being sent across the pond. Michelle Perrett travelled Stateside to find out the truth.

Increases in home drinking, more noise complaints, a drop in staff tips and trade down by as much as 30 per cent in some bars - these are just a few of the effects the smoking ban has had on New York. Mayor Bloomberg, a reformed smoker, banned smoking from all pubs and bars on March 30 last year with the intention of protecting staff from the effects of passive smoking.

The Smoke-Free Air Act was implemented without any trade consultation and saw a blanket ban affect over 13,000 licensed premises in the state of New York.

New York bars and pubs are being forced to police the New York law - those that are caught allowing customers to smoke face bans of up to $2,000 and a possible revocation of their licence.

According to Des O' Brien, the president of the United Restaurant & Tavern Owners of New York (URTO), which represents 3,000 bars in the city: "We have turned from a hospitality industry to a hostility industry."

Trading for some bars in New York is still down by as much as 30 per cent and the latest news from URTO is that between October 2003 and March 2004 bar business was down by as much as 25 per cent across the whole of New York state.

In October last year a survey conducted by International Communications Research found that 76 per cent of New York bars and nightclubs had seen a 30 per cent decline in customers while 34 per cent had cut staff since the ban went into effect.

Ciaran Staunton, owner of the O'Neill's Irish bar in Midtown Manhattan, told The Publican that a year after the ban came in his business is still down 20 per cent and he has had to lay off three of his 14 staff.

He has introduced happy hours and complimentary hors d'oeuvres in an attempt to entice customers to stay in the bar.

"The ban has been a disaster for the small family-operated business," he said. "I have had to get rid of staff as we have lost a lot of our customers. Before the ban we already had smoking and non-smoking sections and a smoke filtration system.

"We did this because it was good for business and it was what the market wanted. People wanted the choice. Now people here are gathering in apartments buying six-packs so they can smoke at home."

Lee Seinfeld, who owns three bars on the Upper West Side, was reported in The New York Post as claiming one of his bars, which he describes as a "down-to-earth, working man's bar", is struggling as trade is still down by 30 per cent a year after the ban was implemented.

Banning smoking has not only hit the trade of pubs but has had a knock-on effect for both staff and other industries.

Many staff who rely on tips are finding their income cut because of the fall in customers.

"The day after the smoking ban went into effect my tips were cut in half," said Vanessa Rohrbach, a bartender at Peter's on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. "I've got a message for those who say the smoking ban is good for my health: poverty is unhealthy."

Figures from the New York Nightlife Association, which represents bars and nightclubs in the city, reveal that sales representatives for wine and liquor companies have seen business drop between 20 per cent and 40 per cent. Operators of jukeboxes, pinball machines and other pub games have seen revenue fall between 10 per cent and 25 per cent.

Even a Catholic priest was reported to have scrapped a church bingo night when pensioners refused to attend because they were not allowed to smoke.

When Mayor Bloomberg introduced the ban he claimed that the amount of money spent in restaurants and bars would increase. The latest statistics from the Mayor's office say that employment is up eight per cent in the hospitality sector because of the ban.

City authorities say tax receipts jumped 8.7 per cent in the 10 months since the smoking ban went into effect.

However, Des O' Brien, who runs Langan's Bar & Restaurant, said the problem with these statistics is that they fail to focus specifically on the pub sector.

He said: "Restaurants have been somewhat immune to the smoking ban. It is pubs, taverns and nightclubs that have been the most affected. The problem is that smokers are spending a shorter amount of time in the bar. Smokers have not stopped coming in but before they would stay for two, three or four drinks rather than one."

The Mayor's office has also been criticised for the way it compares figures year on year. Trade leaders claim it has failed to take into account the fact that 9/11 and the economic slowdown of 2001 saw a drop in trading for pubs. They say figures should be compared between 2000 and 2003 to assess the full impact.

Latest news from the Big Apple

Pubs and bars in New York are facing a new clampdown from health officials enforcing the city's smoking ban.

Health officials say that despite the fact that 97 per cent of bars and restaurants are complying with the law it received 2,833 complaints about illegal smoking at bars and restaurants in the past year.

A number of late-night bars in the city are understood to have been flouting the ban and allowing customers to smoke, especially late at night when enforcement officials have not been working.

Health department spokeswoman Sandra Mullin told The New York Post: "Officials will inspect places late at night and into the morning especially when we receive complaints related to violations at those times."

David Rabin, president of the New York Nightlife Association (NYNA), said: "In many parts of town, places have to choose between risking a ticket for allowing smoking inside or getting a summons for the noise of their patrons out front smoking."

However, there is a chance of a reprieve for the pub trade in New York.

The issue has become a political hot potato for Mayor Bloomberg, who faces a tough battle for re-election next year. With New York newspapers and trade associations such as NYNA and URTO calling for changes that will allow smoking in certain places, the political pressure is growing against the Mayor.

A bill has been introduced to amend the New York law by permitting smoking in bars with sales of alcohol of 60 per cent or higher. Bar areas of restaurants would be allowed smoking providing the site installs air purification equipment that is up to regulated standards.

Mr Rabin said: "After a year, we know the smoking ban has hurt New York's economy. The good news is, there's a way to stop the bleeding without compromising clean air - allow smoking in bars that install the same air purification technology that's used in hospitals. The fact is, we never needed the smoking ban at all.

"Amend the smoking ban and let the market decide where customers will go."

More than 40,000 bar owners, bar employees and bar customers from across New York State have already signed petitions demanding state-of-the-art air filtration systems as an alternative to the smoking ban.

What New York City's trade says...

Larry King, vice president of URTO and owner of the Abbey Tavern, said: "We lost 22 per cent of our bar trade but it is compounded by the fact that this pub is six blocks from five hospitals and I lost the young professionals who refuse to stand outside a bar and smoke.

"The answer is to have no-smoking at dinner tables and to allow smoking in the bar with ventilation.

"The smoking ban was never mandated and it was a one-man campaign by the Mayor."

Carolyn Dobbe, bar manager of the Peculier Pub in West Village, said: "I personally love it because I don't smoke. But th

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