Restaurateurs Urge Council To Reject Anti-Smoking Law

Some Say Restrictions Would Put Restaurants at a Disadvantage

On the day City Manager Robert W. Healy introduced an ordinance that would impose stringent restrictions on smoking in the city, more than 120 restaurateurs converged on City Hall to urge the City Council to reject the proposed law.

The law would restrict smoking to 30 percent of a restaurant's total seats and 15 percent the year after enactment. The current law allows up to 75 percent of a restaurant's seats for smoking.

Restaurateurs, led by John R. Clifford, the owner of the Green Street Grill, crowded the council chamber to register protests against the ordinance, which they said would hurt their business. They said diners will opt to eat in Boston or Somerville if the law is enacted.

"It creates havoc," Clifford told the council. "It's an anti-working class ordinance that penalizes the neighborhood bars and restaurants where people go to smoke and drink."

The proposed law was the result of more than two years of work by Cambridge United for Smoking Protection (CUSP)--a coalition of city agencies and residents.

City councillors appeared skeptical of the proposal.

Vice Mayor Sheila T. Russell said she has not yet decided how she will vote.

"I'm an avid non-smoker," she said in an interview yesterday. "However, I don't want to put anyone out of business."

"Restaurants are a big business in Cambridge," Mayor Kenneth E. Reeves '72 said in an interview. "Of course, health is too."

"We need it to be more regional," Reeves added. "It doesn't make sense for Cambridge to have something radically different [from other cities in the area]. I don't support the ordinance."

Russell said the council was equally undecided: "It sounds like everybody's still fluctuating on it."

The proposal will be referred to the council's ordinance committee, as it would change part of the municipal code. A council vote on the ordinance is expected late next month.

The proposed ordinance also aims to attack youth access to tobacco. It would require all tobacco vendors to purchase a sale permit from the city and to require proof of age before selling cigarettes. Current law only requires vendors to register with the state.

But despite the bill's public-health slant, Clifford and his supporters argued that any smoking restrictions should only be made on the state or federal level.

"You have to answer to the needs of the customers," said Patrick Bowe, owner of the Harvest Restaurant in Harvard Square. The proposed law "puts us in a less competitive position, making it more difficult for us to survive," Bowe added.