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City Council Passes Smoking Ban

Vote Marks End of Struggle Between Health Officials and Owners

By Sewell Chan

The City Council yesterday passed an anti-smoking law that restricts smoking in restaurants and requires tobacco vendors to obtain licenses from the city, capping three months of political wrangling and more than a year of policy negotiations.

Last night's 6-3 vote marked the end of a struggle between Cambridge public health officials and restaurant owners who felt new restrictions would hurt their businesses.

The final compromise was a revised version of a plan proposed by the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce in April.

It restricts smoking to 50 percent of seating in restaurants. But no restaurants actually need to make changes to comply with the new law, according to Kate Dempsey, coordinator of Cambridge United for Smoking Prevention (CUSP), the group which wrote the original bill.

The original proposal would have limited smoking to 30 percent of restaurants' seats in the first two years, and 15 percent thereafter. CUSP Chair Mark A. Gottlieb described the amended restaurant provisions as "meaningless."

"Not one single Cambridge restaurant will have to do anything to comply with the new ordinance," Gottlieb said. "There's 100 percent compliance already."

The ordinance also bans smoking in workplaces, except in ventilated, isolated rooms where employees cannot have contact with non-smokers.

But in an important departure from the original plan, the bill permits the continued use of open cigarette displays. Tobacco companies pay groceries to put the open displays of cigarettes in aisles, but CUSP officials argued that it attracted young people and wanted them behind counters.

The new law requires the displays to be placed within 10 feet of store cash registers.

In a last-ditch effort to toughen the bill, Councillor Kathleen L. Born attempted to amend it to place cigarette displays behind counters yet again.

Born said Cambridge will now be behind 48 towns with tougher smoking restrictions for restaurants, and 77 towns with constraints or bans on free-standing cigarette displays in groceries and supermarkets.

"I've never known Cambridge to be a city in the rear guard but to be a city in the vanguard," Born said. Her two amendments, however, failed by a margin of 5-4.

Despite the watering-down of the bill, Gottlieb was philosophical about the ordinance. "With vigilant enforcement it will make a big differ ence," he said.

Dempsey, however, said "it's a little bitdisappointing that trying to be upfront about thisissue didn't serve public health too well."

Dempsey said the new law is even weaker than anoriginal compromise proposed by local businessesand by the Massachusetts Restaurant Association,which lobbied against a tough bill.

Although Dempsey described the permit andworkplace requirements as helpful, she said onlytwo supermarkets--Purity Supreme in Central Squareand the Star Market on Mt. Auburn Street--havecigarette displays further than 10 feet from thecounter.

"If you can't get the cigarettes, you can'tdevelop an addiction," she said. "That is the mosteffective method we have."

"It seems to me there's a basic lack ofunderstanding of the value of public health,"Dempsey added.

She said the law's chief weakness was itsfailure to protect restaurant workers and waiterswho inhale dangerous second-hand smoke.

"If restaurants gave their workers healthinsurance, there would be no smoking inrestaurants," Dempsey said. "They don't have topick up the ticket for the effects of second-handsmoke."

CUSP, which is a coalition consisting of cityofficials and Cambridge residents, will work onenforcement of the new law and on educationalefforts to combat smoking, Gottlieb said.

Dempsey promised a consumer campaign to getdiners to avoid smoking sections and restaurantsthat permit smoking. "Not going to certain placesis sending a message to restaurateurs that theyshould have smoke-free areas," she said.

Business interests, however, said they werepleased by what they called a reasonablecompromise.

"The Chamber is just delighted," said Helena G.Rees, the Chamber of Commerce's public affairsdirector. "You're seeing both the needs ofnon-smokers met by going from the current 25percent to 50 percent as well as allowing thosewho do smoke to have choice as well."

Local restaurateurs have argued that anysmoking restrictions should take place at thestate or federal level, so that patrons do notleave Cambridge to dine in communities with morelax laws.

Rees said anti-smoking laws have a clearhistory of hurting business. She said Maryland andthe towns of Chicopee and Northampton inMassachusetts have revoked tough anti-smokinglaws.

"These policies were rescinded or changedbecause of the economic impact they had onrestaurants and bars," Rees said.

Dempsey said the original bill was intended tobe the settlement for at least half a decade, butthe newly weakened ordinance may mean anothersmoking battle in the near future. That could comeas soon as the November elections or early nextyear, she said.

"That's the risk the Cambridge Chamber ofCommerce runs by proposing such a weak ordinance,that people are going to be [dissatisfied] withit," Gottlieb said.

"I don't see the restaurant community as ouradversaries," Dempsey said, but added, "it willmake things harder for them in the future."

Rees said she was unfazed. "We'll be back tocarry the banner for the restaurants," shepromised

Dempsey, however, said "it's a little bitdisappointing that trying to be upfront about thisissue didn't serve public health too well."

Dempsey said the new law is even weaker than anoriginal compromise proposed by local businessesand by the Massachusetts Restaurant Association,which lobbied against a tough bill.

Although Dempsey described the permit andworkplace requirements as helpful, she said onlytwo supermarkets--Purity Supreme in Central Squareand the Star Market on Mt. Auburn Street--havecigarette displays further than 10 feet from thecounter.

"If you can't get the cigarettes, you can'tdevelop an addiction," she said. "That is the mosteffective method we have."

"It seems to me there's a basic lack ofunderstanding of the value of public health,"Dempsey added.

She said the law's chief weakness was itsfailure to protect restaurant workers and waiterswho inhale dangerous second-hand smoke.

"If restaurants gave their workers healthinsurance, there would be no smoking inrestaurants," Dempsey said. "They don't have topick up the ticket for the effects of second-handsmoke."

CUSP, which is a coalition consisting of cityofficials and Cambridge residents, will work onenforcement of the new law and on educationalefforts to combat smoking, Gottlieb said.

Dempsey promised a consumer campaign to getdiners to avoid smoking sections and restaurantsthat permit smoking. "Not going to certain placesis sending a message to restaurateurs that theyshould have smoke-free areas," she said.

Business interests, however, said they werepleased by what they called a reasonablecompromise.

"The Chamber is just delighted," said Helena G.Rees, the Chamber of Commerce's public affairsdirector. "You're seeing both the needs ofnon-smokers met by going from the current 25percent to 50 percent as well as allowing thosewho do smoke to have choice as well."

Local restaurateurs have argued that anysmoking restrictions should take place at thestate or federal level, so that patrons do notleave Cambridge to dine in communities with morelax laws.

Rees said anti-smoking laws have a clearhistory of hurting business. She said Maryland andthe towns of Chicopee and Northampton inMassachusetts have revoked tough anti-smokinglaws.

"These policies were rescinded or changedbecause of the economic impact they had onrestaurants and bars," Rees said.

Dempsey said the original bill was intended tobe the settlement for at least half a decade, butthe newly weakened ordinance may mean anothersmoking battle in the near future. That could comeas soon as the November elections or early nextyear, she said.

"That's the risk the Cambridge Chamber ofCommerce runs by proposing such a weak ordinance,that people are going to be [dissatisfied] withit," Gottlieb said.

"I don't see the restaurant community as ouradversaries," Dempsey said, but added, "it willmake things harder for them in the future."

Rees said she was unfazed. "We'll be back tocarry the banner for the restaurants," shepromised

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