With tighter restrictions on smoking in restaurants looming ahead, Cambridge restaurant and bar owners are struggling to renegotiate a new ordinance that could send hungry smokers elsewhere.
The Cambridge Department of Health and Hospitals' (DHH) Tobacco Control Program has been negotiating with Cambridge store owners since September regarding how much they should increase the number of seats reserved for non-smokers in restaurants.
Currently all the city's restaurants and bars must set aside 25 percent of their tables.
Cambridge restaurateurs said they fear the town will follow the example of nearby Brookline, where a complete ban on smoking in eating places has left proprietors reeling.
"We are not anticipating calling for a 100 percent ban," Pamela D. Anderson, the Tobacco Control Program's policy coordinator, said Monday. "We are trying to help the public without running into the same problems as Brookline."
Cambridge Health Commissioner Melvin H. Chalfen '50 said Monday that Cambridge's current smoking policy is "outdated," but any new restrictions should maintain a balance between public health and economic losses.
"We have taken notice of the situation in Brookline and decided to approach the manner in a way to try to build consensus, not controversy," he said.
Brookline restaurateurs have already filed nine affidavits against their town complaining that "continued application of the By-Law prohibiting smoking is causing a severe diminution of revenue."
Matt Garrett's Restaurant in Brookline has reported losses of more than $55,000 since the ban took effect on July 1.
1280 Beacon Street, another popular Brookline restaurant, suffered a loss of $27,000 in the month of September alone.
With such losses so close to home, Cambridge proprietors are increasingly wary about the future of their restaurants.
Mike Sforza, owner and manager of Drumlin's, a Cambridge bar, has started circulating a petition sponsored by the newly- formed International Restaurant Association of Central Square.
Sforza and other owners claim they should be able to determine non-smoking seating at their own discretion--a freedom that has often resulted in seating many more non-smokers than the 25 percent required.
"I believe that the current ordinance is adequate," the petition reads. "I do not support additional government interference and restrictions relative to smoke in restaurants and bars."
The government alluded to in the petition has not even begun to discuss the issue yet, but preliminary responses from city councillors indicate they share owners' concerns.