Smokers, stores push back on city plan

As a light drizzle stopped on late Sunday night, Liz McBride stepped out of Dbar on Dorchester Avenue to light a cigarette. According to Boston Public Health Commission it will soon be illegal to smoke in the patio of a bar. But McBride says she is smoking a legal substance. "It is an infringement of my rights, and I will continue smoking."

Cigarettes will be prohibited in areas adjacent to worksites such as patios of restaurants and bars, and loading docks, according to a new legislation proposed by Boston Public Health Commission.

Health regulators have granted preliminary approval to the measures and a public hearing was scheduled for Oct. 8. The tough anti-smoking measures will include a ban on the sale of tobacco products in pharmacies, drug stores, and on college and university campuses.

"The new regulations will broaden and expand the worksite, and protect employees from second hand smoking," said Roger Swartz, director of community initiative bureau of Boston Public Health Commission. Tobacco smoking inside bars and restaurants has been banned since 2003.

However, it will not apply to buffer zones such as parking lots.

The regulations, which are expected to come into effect early next year, will give Boston some of the toughest anti-smoking regulations in the country.

"We know smoking is bad, but we still choose to smoke," said Dermot Walsh, puffing a cigarette in front of Sonny's Pub and Restaurant on Adams Street. The employees can choose not to work in a bar to avoid smoking effects, he said.

"It is the land of free. But Boston is turning into a police state," he said.

Health regulators say the rights of non-smokers have to be protected and the new rules would reduce cases of respiratory diseases.

"It is a great thing to be living in the most progressive city in the country that takes the most aggressive steps to stop people from ruining their health," said Walzack, CEO of Codman Square Health Center.

But the new regulations are "too strict," according to both smokers and non-smokers.

"There is not much difference in smoking on the patio or across the fence," said Robert Hopkins, sitting on the patio of Blarney Stone Bar on Dorchester Avenue. After lighting a cigarette, he said, "It is not like you are in a car or in an enclosed area. In the patio you have a lot of ventilation." A ban on the making of cigarettes alone can stop smoking, he added.

"Smokers respect others and go out and smoke, even when it is minus 20 degrees. So their rights should also be respected," said Michelle Tremlay, a non-smoker as she stepped out to the patio of Blarney to join her friend, who was smoking outside.

Many owners of restaurants and bars appreciate the efforts of Boston Public Health Commission to curb smoking inside, but say the ban on smoking in patios is unnecessary.

"It is going a little too far," said Ben Johnson, owner of Blarney Stone Bar. The ban on smoking inside increased sales because non-smokers came out to enjoy meals, he said. But smoking on patios will discourage smokers from coming and may affect sales.

"The employees or the bartender is not stuck in an enclosed space," said Chris Douglas, owner of Ashmont Grill on Talbot Avenue. The smokers will visit other places with no restrictions, such as Quincy, he said.

"This rule will be a tricky one in terms of enforcement," he added.

The Boston Public Health Commission will be in charge of enforcing the regulations.

First time violators will pay a fine of $200, subsequent violations within the next 24 months would cost $700. Three or more violations within 24 months would amount to a fine of $1000.

"It will affect sales on a rainy night, if people cannot stand on the patio and have to walk further," said Randy Wehling, manager of Dbar, on Dorchester Ave.

Smoking is not permitted in the patio of Dbar during dinnertime. "During bar time it is difficult to monitor," said Christopher Coombs, executive chef of Dbar. "But there are no employees working at that time, so it is of no use."

Written comments on the proposed regulations can be sent until Nov. 3, to Boston Public Health Commission, Board Office, Attention: Julie Webster, 1010 Massachusetts Ave., 6th Floor, Boston, MA 02118 or emailed to boardofhealth@bphc.org.

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