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Cambridge Likely to Ban Smoking

By Frank Dabek

STAFF REPORTER

After a year of debate, the Cambridge city council is likely to enact a ban on smoking in all bars and restaurants at tonight’s meeting.

Cambridge’s proposed ban comes as the statehouse debates a state-wide measure. Neighboring Boston’s ban has been in effect for several weeks.

Councillor Denise Simmons is widely seen as the lone undecided council member. Of the remaining eight councillors, four are in favor of the ban and four are against it. Although Simmons has not made an announcement about her vote, Councillor David Maher said at last Monday’s meeting that he is optimistic the smoking ban measure will pass tonight.

Simmons did not return requests for comment.

Momentum for a vote on the issue had been building at last Monday’s meeting, but the measure was tabled after councillors failed to come to an agreement on implementation details.

At the meeting, Maher, co-chair of the city’s ordinance committee, said that the implementation details under consideration include how the ban will be enforced, when it will be implemented, and what, if any, assistance the city will provide to bar owners.

Vice Mayor Henrietta Davis, the other committee co-chair, said that the council did not want to implement the measure “in a draconian fashion, but with a cooperative spirit.” The implementation committee may include bar owners, she said.

According to the city’s chief public health officer, Harold Cox, the city will also work with the police to allay concerns about the enforcement of loitering laws and with the licensing commission on issues of permitting for ashtrays outside of bars. “I hope we are closing the ranks on the concerns [the councillors] have,” Cox said.

The current measure before the council exempts private clubs such as Veterans of Foreign Wars Posts and the Polish-American club from the ban in certain circumstances. Cox said that an amendment to remove the exemption has been discussed.

Cox acknowledged the difficulties in drafting a ban. It’s “been incredibly difficult for the councillors,” he said. Cox said that he chose to pursue a smoking ban through the council rather than the board of health because of potential legal entanglements relating to such a process. Framingham’s smoking ban was enacted via its board of health and was delayed by an ultimately unsuccessful legal challenge.

State-wide ban in conference

A state-wide measure to ban smoking in all workplaces, as the measure under consideration by Cambridge does, was added as an amendment to the state Senate’s budget bill. Because the House did not include such a provision in their version of the bill, the fate of the ban will be worked out in conference between the two houses.

Cox said that he hopes a ban in Cambridge, like the ban in Boston which went into effect on May 5, will have a “tilting effect” on the state legislators considering a state-wide measure.

Bans in communities across the state “make it easier for the legislators to do their jobs,” Davis said.

“Each community that comes forward puts more pressure on the state,” Maher said.

A state-wide ban was supported by all the councillors, Maher said. Such a ban is easier for councillors to support because local businesses are not as threatened by the possibility of patrons taking business to nearby towns.

If Cambridge does enact a ban tonight, it will be after substantial debate on the issue.

“It’s been a year,” Cox said. “I’m ready.” Related stories: