New Yorkers protest at statewide smoking ban

THEY came in their hundreds, even in wheelchairs, with badges, banners and chants, to protest at New York’s strict no-smoking laws which became statewide yesterday.

More than 500 people made up of bar owners, restaurateurs, nightclub owners and workers called on the mayor to either “lighten up” the ban or revoke it.

Seven members of the newly formed Irish Hospitality Industry Alliance attended the march with banners to highlight the potential impact the Irish smoking ban will have if it is introduced from January 1, 2004.

“We are very worried about what we have heard from bar owners, distributors and workers since we have arrived here. There is no way bars at home could sustain losses of between 30% and 40%. It will mean closures and job losses,” spokesperson for the group Finbar Murphy warned.

President of the New York Nightclub Association, who sponsored the ‘Can the Ban’ rally, David Rabin said their opposition to the ban was not because they were in favour of smoking, but against job losses, the loss of tips which make up the most of the hospitality industry’s wages, and the loss of choice for customers.

Stewart Delves from Tallaght, who set up a bar in New York shortly after the September 11 attacks, said he had only just got his business off the ground when the authorities “pulled the chair out from under me”. “Business is terrible since the ban. The (Smithfield) bar is down 40%. Our business during the week is nonexistent. I haven’t had to lay off any of my six staff, but I have had to cut their hours. I just don’t know if the ban will force us to close,” said the 31-year-old. He has had a beer glass thrown at him when he asked a customer to step outside to have his cigarette.

Conroy from North Tipperary, who owns four bars in midtown New York, is very worried about the ban. His revenue is down 25%.

“People who come in for a few beers and to socialise, don’t come in here anymore. They are staying at home or going to New Jersey which is the next state and not covered by the ban. New Jersey is only 10 minutes away and business there is going up while ours is going down,” he said.

Mr Conroy, who owns Mustang Sally’s, Mustang Harry’s, Seven Bar and Grill and Jacks, has not laid off any staff but has not replaced six of his waitresses, busboys, or kitchen staff who have left since the ban was introduced on March 30.

Another smoker who attended the march, 44-year-old Brian Tarantina, said he didn’t go out anymore to bars because he wasn’t going to spend his money in a place that did not allow him to smoke. When told Ireland was introducing a countrywide ban from January next, he said: “I won’t be going to Ireland then and I’d say a lot of smokers won’t go there either. Let me tell you, you have just lost one New York tourist to your country.”

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