City bars and restaurants cited for fewer smoking violations

Smoker

Smoker (Credit: A smoker stands away from a Manhattan restaurant to have a cigarette. (Craig Ruttle))

Smoking violations issued to New York City bars and restaurants have plummeted in the nine years since puffing was banned inside public places, health records show.

The city doled out 350 smoking-related violations through June, putting it on pace for 700 violations this year, a nearly 83% drop from the record high of 4,070 given in 2003, the first year the Smoke-Free Air Act was in effect, according to records obtained by amNewYork.

The anti-smoking legislation, spearheaded by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and passed by the City Council in 2002, strengthened a 1995 law that designated certain areas of restaurants where smoking was allowed. Bloomberg also signed a law last year that prohibited smoking at public beaches and parks.

Though Bloomberg's push for a smoking ban inside restaurants, bars and workplaces was controversial initially, similar laws have been passed in more than 20 states since New York City prohibited smoking inside public places.

Since 2002, the number of city residents who smoke dropped from 22% to 14%, Bloomberg said last year, lower than the national average of 19.3%.

Elliott Marcus, the city's assistant commissioner for food safety, credited restaurants and bars for quickly following the new law.

"There was great compliance from the start," Marcus told amNewYork, adding that the agency had also stepped up its enforcement of the new rules.

"There are more inspections by a long shot and the [violation] numbers are still going down," he said.

A health department spokeswoman said the agency has gradually increased the number of full-time inspectors from 83 in 2003 to its current roster of 157. The department did not have figures for how much collected in fines since 2003, but said fines range from $200 to $2,000. The number of violations has fluctuated since 2002, declining most years.Although the smoking ban impacted some businesses when it went into effect, most restaurants and bars have acclimated to the smoking ban, according to Andrew Rigie, executive director of the New York City hospitality alliance.

"Society as a whole has adjusted to not being able to smoke indoors," Rigie said. "This has become a major trend around the world and most businesses have adjusted, though it has created some additional problems."

Rigie said neighbors of some businesses do complain about noise and pollution created by smokers who are pushed to the curb.

But Audrey Silk, of New York City Citizens Lobbying Against Smoker Harassment, said she has heard from fellow smokers of several places around the city that ignore the ban after hours, despite a city crackdown on late-night venues that began in 2008.

"The number of violations do not reflect what's really going on out there," she said.

Silk also said restaurants and bars should be able to decide on their own if they want to prohibit smoking.

"If the owner thinks it's better for his bottom line not to allow smoking, it's up to me not to go there," Silk said. "But if his bottom line is that it's better to have smoking, it should be up to nonsmokers to go somewhere else."

Silk asked, "They can't even leave a few places?"

Joe Che, of Brooklyn, said he occasionally sees people smoking indoors, but doesn't like to do it himself.

"People light up and wait for someone to tell them to stop," said Che as he smoked in Revival Bar's East 15th Street backyard. "And other people see them doing it, so they light up too."

"You don't want to smoke in bars anyway," added Che, 19. "You smell like ash."

(With Igor Kossov)

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Smoking Violations for Restaurants

Year/Number of Violations
'03 -- 4070
'04 -- 1800
'05 -- 552
'06 -- 1628
'07 -- 1095
'08 -- 843
'09 -- 1257
'10 -- 1239
'11 - 876

Where the violations are this year (through June):

Manhattan -- 33%
Bronx -- 7%
Brooklyn -- 28%
Queens -- 28%
Staten Island -- 4%

Tags: NEWS , ARTICLE , AMNY , HOLD

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