City Councillors Debate Smoking Ban

Cambridge City Councillors met yesterday to hash over the impacts and enforcement of a proposed smoking ban in restaurants and bars—but they came no closer to reaching a consensus.

The three councillors who constitute the crucial swing vote voiced their concerns that the ban would damage the livelihood of small Cambridge businesses—and made it clear that the proposed ban would not pass in its current form.

Four out of nine councillors—one short of the required number to pass the proposal—have said they will vote for the ban.

“There aren’t five votes that I know of for a ban in this language,” said Councillor Anthony D. Galluccio, one of three councillors who has said he would support some form of smoking ban, but not the one currently before the council.

The dissenting councillors said that while they want to protect the health of waiters and bartenders, the current proposal does not take into account the economic and social needs of Cambridge residents.

“I do think there will be an adverse impact on the business community,” Councillor E. Denise Simmons said.

And in a city fond of its local character, Galluccio said he worries that the ban would be the end of the neighborhood hangout and a path to making Cambridge as lively as “milk toast.”

“I do think ten years down the line, the media will do a story on how we lost our neighborhood bars, which represent the racial and ethnic diversity we have,” he said.

The ban is add put restaurants and bars to the places restricted by an ordinance guaranteeing a smoke-free workplace, which the City Council adopted in the mid 1990s.

“I continue to be skeptical that this is an employee rights movement,” Galluccio said. “I think that this is a non-smoking movement.”

The dissenting councillors also argued that since this was not a statewide ordinance—as was the case in California and Utah—Cambridge patrons would have incentive to take their business to neighboring towns.

But the movement has spread across the Massachusetts to over 60 towns and cities, including Boston last December.

Public health officers present said they were unlikely to change their stance, emphasizing the health hazard that second-hand smoke poses.

They described the ban as one step in an “incremental” approach toward eliminating tobacco-smoking altogether.

“We need a 100 percent ban,” said Harold D. Cox, Cambridge’s chief public health officer. “I come to you not with compromise language. I come to you to say this is what we need to protect people today.”

And Boston Public Health Commission Executive Director John Auerbach assured councillors that they would be able to enforce the regulation through a system similar to Boston’s— which will rely on four full-time and three part-time inspectors, and phone calls from concerned neighbors.

But the opposing councillors said they even doubt whether this ban will do enough to safeguard the community against health dangers of smoking.

Galluccio said that until the public health commission makes an effort to regulate other workplaces where employees who are exposed to carcinogens—like iron workers and gas station attendants—he would not consider this ban motivated by health concerns.

Councillor Kenneth Reeves argued that if health were the top priority of the ban, the city should ban cigarette sales.

“Let’s do the thing but let’s not footsie around and then pretend that we did it,” he said.

—Staff writer Alexandra N. Atiya can be reached at atiya@fas.harvard.edu.