Tighten Limits on Smoking


In the coming weeks, the Cambridge City Council will consider a bill that would impose new and tougher restrictions on smoking in restaurants and bars, and would fight the sale of tobacco to minors. We urge the council to support the rights of the city's many non-smoking residents and pass the bill.

The bill, drafted by Cambridge United for Smoking Prevention (CUSP), proposes to limit smoking areas in restaurants to 30 percent of the seats in its first year, 15 percent in the second and then possibly prohibit smoking entirely in its third year. By doing so, Cambridge would finally be saying that the right not to inhale smoke supercedes the right to smoke.

Restaurant patrons have always been forced to accept the second-hand smoke of their fellow patrons, but increasingly evidence has come forward that second-hand smoke can be extremely harmful.

The city definitely has a role in protecting its residents from such hazards. It also has a role in ensuring quality working conditions. The average patron need only endure the smoke for a meal, but a server endures it all day. City officials report emotional pleas from restaurant workers to limit smoking in restaurants. Smokers should certainly be allowed to smoke if they wish, so long as it does not endanger the health of people around them.

Smoking is becoming less and less common in this country. Restaurants rarely have more than 30 percent of their seats reserved for smokers; even then, those sections are rarely filled while non-smokers have to wait for a seat in the non-smoking section.

By banning smoking in restaurants, the city would simply be moving with the tastes of the majority of its citizens. Indeed, CUSP is funded by a 25-cent cigarette tax that was approved by 69 percent of the voters in 1992--in effect saying that they were for policies of smoking prevention. Cambridge should listen to its residents.

But lingering, bar-hopping smokers need not panic--the bill still allows for smoking in bars. The smallest bars have no restrictions at all. Bars would clearly be the biggest losers of revenue under a total ban, as they were in Brookline recently. As a result, CUSP remains sympathetic to them. Ideally we would like to see a total ban, but reality and economics tell us that a ban on smoking in bars would hurt what little bar scene remains in Cambridge.

We also endorse the bill's provision for closer monitoring of tobacco vendors to fight the sale of tobacco to minors. Teenagers are the highest risk groups when it comes to smoking. Officials report that 13 percent of Cambridge residents under 18 are smokers. With proper enforcement of existing laws prohibiting the sale of tobacco to minors, the ban might become obsolete. We can only see good coming from strong restrictions on minors's purchase of tobacco.

Although there has been some anger at the proposed ban, there has been surprisingly little from restauranteurs. The Cambridge License Advisory Board, which comprises the approximately 230 restaurants holding liquor licenses, has been involved extensively in negotiation over the bill and has given it tentative approval. If one of the two main parties involved, restauranteurs, have no problem with the ban, than neither should the City Council.

The other party, smokers, would find some limitations on their behavior but nothing approaching the banning of tobacco. Smokers will still have every right to continue smoking as much or as little as they wish, as long as it does not threaten the health or enjoyment of anyone else. We have laws on public drunkenness, we have speed limits--we should have stronger smoking restrictions.

Smoking is unhealthy, anti-social, annoying and, if you are a minor buying cigarettes is illegal. Cambridge laws should reflect these realities.