Senator: Make Bar, Restaurant Patios Smoke-Free (Jamestown Post-Journal)

John Whittaker - Jamestown Post-Journal

Originally published in Jamestown Post-Journal

Photo Credit: Associated Press file photo

A new bill introduced recently in the state Senate would require bars and restaurants to make their outdoor patios smoke-free.

Sen. Sean Ryan, D-Buffalo, has introduced S.2771 to close a loophole in the 2003 New York Clean Indoor Act that allowed smoking on bar and restaurant patios. Ryan wrote in his legislative justification that the Clean Indoor Act allowed a quarter of some restaurant patios to be designated as smoking areas. He states that the exception remains on the books though many patios are entirely smoke-free.

“This bill protects both restaurant employees and their guests, while providing clearer industry standards,” Ryan wrote in his legislative justification. “Smoking on patios has a disproportionately high impact on women, who are more likely than their male counterparts to work as servers or waiters, despite men making up a larger percentage of the overall restaurant workforce. This will also protect pregnant servers and guests, as well as other patrons, including children and families, from secondhand smoke exposure.”

The bill has been referred to the Senate Health Committee.

Many state laws that banned smoking indoors allowed smoking outdoors as long as it wasn’t too close to entrances or exits of buildings. According to the American Lung Association, more than 235 individual California cities and counties have banned smoking in outdoor areas that include restaurant patios and beaches, but there is no state law limiting smoking in outdoor places. Connecticut law bans smoking in any outdoor dining area with a roof while Oregon began cracking down on smoking on restaurant patios in 2016 despite complaints from restaurants that changes to policies that changes to definitions of enclosed patios where smoking was allowed had caused some restaurants’ business to decline by as much as 20%, according to an article in Reason magazine.

The issue came to a head in New Jersey over the past couple of years.

The question of whether smoking will continue to be allowed in the casinos could also be addressed in 2023 and have lasting impact. For more than two years, a group of casino workers has pushed for a law closing the loophole in New Jersey’s indoor clean air law that continues to allow smoking on a portion of the casino floor in Atlantic City. A bill that would end smoking in the casinos has sat untouched in the state Legislature for more than a year, in part because discussions over allowing outdoor smoking areas as a compromise fell apart. Talks could have created some outdoor gambling spaces where smoking would be permitted, but there was no wide agreement on just what constitutes an “outdoor area.”

“We’re suffering; we need help,” said Thomas Truitt, a dealer at the Borgata. “When people are blowing smoke in your face, it’s hard to breathe.”

Mark Giannantonio, who also is president of the Casino Association of New Jersey, said business conditions need to improve before smoking can be ended.

“We have to stabilize the industry,” he said during a 2022 public forum. “If you eliminate smoking, we are going to have a pretty significant and immediate downturn. There is a time for eliminating smoking — I’m not sure it’s right now.”