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Proposed Smoking Ordinance Would Impose Toughest Smoking Restrictions Ever

By Sewell Chan

State laws have been largely ineffective in preventing teenagers from buying cigarettes, according an undercover city investigation released last week.

The study involved youths ages 13 to 17, who were paid by the Cambridge Department of Health and Hospitals to survey a total of 57 retailers. The teenagers were able to purchase packs of Newport cigarettes from 33 of those 57 retailers.

The investigation comes as the City Council is considering passing the city's toughest smoking restrictions ever. Authored by Cambridge United for Smoking Prevention, a coalition of city officials and residents, the proposal would eliminate smoking in public places and require tobacco vendors to purchase licenses from the city.

"With such a high rate of non compliance with the law, clearly education is not enough," Patricia M. Andersen, policy and enforcement coordinator for the department's tobacco control program, said in a statement. "We need a local ordinance to give us the ability to enforce the state law."

Among the ordinance's other provisions are new rules on smoking in restaurants. Smoking would be prohibited in restaurants with fewer than 20 seats, and limited to 30 percent of seats in restaurants with more than 20 seats.

Although some exemptions would be made for restaurants with bars, the ordinance has drawn fire of many restaurateurs, who say the restrictions will hurt business. More than 75 restaurateurs and supporters of the ordinance turned out for a spirited public hearing before the city council's ordinance committee last Wednesday.

"The great majority of the restaurateurs would rather see not change at all," said John R. Clifford, owner of the Green Street Grill. "They'll probably go along with a compromise, although I think it's clear that the current ordinance works. You really don't need a new ordinance."

Clifford has spearheaded a petition effort against the ordinance, saying it would cause diners to eat in nearby Boston and Brookline, which have more lax restrictions.

Helena G. Rees, public-affairs director for the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce, agreed.

"The Chamber's position as it stands now is there should be no change in the current ordinance, because it works," Rees said.

The CCC includes about 150 restaurants, of which about 75 percent have liquor licenses, Rees said. She said the vast majority of restaurateurs feared a loss in revenue along the lines of Brookline's. Restaurants in that town reported declines in revenues after the town council banned smoking in restaurants.

But Mark A. Gottlieb, the chair of CUSP's policy committee, which drafted the ordinance, said the proposal already represents long negotiations with restaurateurs and businesspeople.

"We went as far we could possible go," Gottlieb said. "If you were to go out and take a survey of cining halls, you'd be hard pressed to find many that have more a third of their seating set aside for smokers right now. Generally you have to wait for seats in the non-smoking section."

The ordinance would only be "codifying the status quo," Gottlieb added.

"I don't know why we need to add anything" to the current laws, agreed Vice Mayor Sheila T. Russell.

Any new smoking restrictions should be passed at the state level so that Cambridge franchises aren't put at a disadvantage, Russell said, echoing the views of many in restaurant and bar owners.

The state legislature may well be considering a restaurant-wide smoking ban. State Sen. Lucille Hicks (R-Weyland) has introduced a bill that would ban smoking in all public dining rooms in Massachusetts.

While the bill is expected to face heated opposition from the Massachusetts Restaurant Association, Cambridge supports a state-wide ban.

The council voted 8-0 last night to support such a bill. But its sponsor, Councillor Francis H. Duehay '55, nonetheless supports the proposed city ordinance.

"My view is, the less smoking, the better. It is extremely harmful to public health," Duehay said. "Nationwide it's just a question of time before all public spaces are smoke-free."

Although he sponsored the council ordinance, Duehay said a statewide ban might take a very long time. "Even if you vote community by community, state by state it's going to be fought on every venue" by lobbyists, he said.

"It's important that communities institute their own regulations," Duehay added. "That adds pressure to the state. The legislator may finally feel this is silly, going on a community by community basis" to ban smoking.

Youth Study

The study released last week highlighted the problem of illicit youth smoking in the city, Andersen said.

The health and hospitals department hired local youths from the city's CASPAR education program and from Boston's Dimock Community Center.

"They would go two at a time, with an adult accopmanying them," Andersen said. "The adult would not go into the store, they would go in and attempt to purchase cigarettes." The study took place in the Fresh Pond, Inman Sq. and Harvard Sq. areas, Andersen said.

The tobacco control program had placed notices in advance in the Cambridge Chronicle and the Cambridge Tab, warning businesses that spot compliance checks would be conducted, Andersen said. In addition, officers from the Cambridge Police Department's alcohol and drug program distributed brochures to tobacco vendors alerting them to state law.

But Andersen said the undercover study was only a test. The department is planning no legal action against the merchants who sold to the minors, but will deliver warning letters.

But "next time we certainly will issue fines and so forth," she said.

Andersen called for tougher enforcement and fines. "The people who sell liquor want to make money, but they know not to sell minors because if they get caught they have an even stiffer penalty" than cigarette vendors, she said.

"The research shows that mroe teenagers are smoking than before," agreed Gaston M. Kinkoue-Poufong, project assistant for the city's Substance Abuse Task Force (SATF), a division of the city's department of human services.

Cambridge still has a smaller rate of youth smoking than the state average, but its proportion has risen in recent years, Kinkoue-Poufong said.

An SATF study of Cambridge Rindge and Latin School students, released in December, showed that nearly half of the high school students had tried smoking before, while 13 percent described themselves as current cigarette users.

But some vendors said parents, not vendors, should be responsible for youth smoking.

"I and my family make a living off selling cigarettes," said an employee at Libby's Liquor in Central Square, which sells a wide variety of cigarettes.

"Anybody of age should be able to control themselves," said the man, who identified himself as the store's owner but refused to give his name. "Somebody's got to teach them what's right and wrong. If they want to [buy tobacco], they're going to buy it legally or illegally."

The owner said Libby's Liquor does not sell cigarettes to minors. Proposed Smoking Ordinance

Authored by Cambridge United for Smoking Prevention, the twenty-on page proposed smoking ordinance would enact the toughest smoking restrictions ever implemented in Cambridge.

Highlights from the Proposal

All tobacco vendors would be required to purchase a sale permit from the city of Cambridge

All vendors would require proof of age before selling tobacco Free distribution of tobacco products would be forbidden.

The sale of single cigarettes, "loosies," would be forbidden.

All tobacco would have to be kept behind the encounter; self-service displays would be forbidden.

All vending machines would have to be equipped with a "lock-out" device. Children would be forbidden from sitting in smoking sections.

All smoking in the workplace would be prohibited, except when a smoking lounge is separately ventilated.

Smoking in any indoor public space, except restaurants, would be prohibited.

Smoking in taxicabs while passengers are being transported would be prohibited.

Smoking in many restaurants would be reduced; smoking in restaurants with 20 seats or less would be forbidden, smoking in restaurants with more than 20 seats would be limited to 30 percent of seats in the first year, and 15 percent in the second. Restaurants with bars or lounges would receive some exemptions.

Source: Cambridge United for Smoking Prevention

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