Smoking violations issued to New York City bars and restaurants have plummeted in the nine years since puffing was banned in public places, records show.
The city doled out 350 smoking-related violations through June, putting it on pace for 700 this year, records show. That is nearly an 83 percent drop from the record of 4,070 given in 2003, the year the Smoke-Free Air Act took effect.
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. Last year, Bloomberg signed a law that prohibited smoking at beaches and parks.
Though the mayor's smoking ban in restaurants, bars, workplaces and other public locations was initially controversial, more than 20 states have since approved similar laws.
Since 2002, city residents who smoke have dropped from 22 percent to 14 percent of the population, Bloomberg said last year. That puts it lower than the national average of 19.3 percent.
Elliott Marcus, the city's assistant commissioner for food safety, credited restaurants and bars for quickly following the law.
"There was great compliance from the start," Marcus 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 has been collected in fines, which range from $200 to $2,000, since 2003.
Restaurant and bar owners initially complained of damage to their busineses and to tourism. Most have since acclimated to the smoking ban, said Andrew Rigie, executive director of the New York City Hospitality Alliance. "Society as a whole has adjusted to not being able to smoke indoors," he said.
But Audrey Silk, of New York City Citizens Lobbying Against Smoker Harassment, said fellow smokers had told her about several places in the city that ignore the ban after hours. Silk said restaurants and bars should be able to decide on their own if they want to prohibit smoking.