The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 47.0°F | Light Rain

Council Bans Smoking in Bars

By Frank Dabek

STAFF REPORTER

The Cambridge City Council has voted to ban smoking in all Cambridge-area bars and restaurants beginning October 1.

The smoking ban, which will affect all workplaces in the city, passed by the unexpectedly large margin of 7-2 after several councillors swung behind the measure when it became clear that Councillor Denise Simmons would cast the deciding fifth vote in favor. Councillor Timothy Toomey and Mayor Michael Sullivan cast the two votes against the ban.

Councillor Brian Murphy, a long-time supporter of the ban, said at the June 9 meeting, shortly before the ban was passed: “the butt stops here.”

Somerville, Cambridge’s neighbor to the north, has also enacted a smoking ban in all workplaces, said Jack Vondras, the director of Somerville’s health department. Somerville’s ban is timed to take effect the same day as Cambridge’s: Somerville has “too long of a contiguous border” with Cambridge not to implement simultaneously, Vondras said.

Unlike Cambridge’s ban, which was enacted by the city council, Somerville’s health department ordered the ban as a health regulation. Because Somerville does not have a smoking ordinance on the books, it was able to enact the ban through the health department and without any action by the city’s board of aldermen, Vondras said.

Framingham’s smoking ban, enacted by the board of health, faced a legal challenge that centered on the fact that the city already had an ordinance.

The Somerville ban, which was anticipated by supporters of Cambridge’s ban, reduces fears that business from smokers will cross the border to Somerville.

Ban passed with amendments

Simmons introduced several amendments to the Cambridge measure at the June 9 council meeting during which the ban, with the amendments, was passed. The amendments removed an exemption for private clubs, set an implementation date of October 1, and mandated that an implementation committee include members of the “entertainment industry.”

In her remarks to the council shortly before the body voted, Simmons acknowledged her key role in making the long languishing ban law: “I may be the deciding vote,” she said, “For nine months I labored over this issue.”

Simmons said that she has “always supported [the ban], but I wanted to minimize adverse” impact on businesses. The amendments introduced by Simmons, notably the inclusion of private clubs such as Veterans of Foreign Wars posts, were apparently included to minimize the impact of the ban on the business of Cambridge bars. Simmons said that including the private clubs would create a “level playing field” for all businesses.

While seven councillors voted in favor of the ban, the tenor of the debate prior to the vote suggested that support for the ban was weaker than the large margin by which it passed would suggest.

Councillor Kenneth Reeves, who eventually voted in favor of the ban, was particularly vocal in criticism. Reeves questioned the need for a ban when, he said, only 17 percent of Cambridge bars and restaurants allow smoking. He also attacked the workplace safety arguments raised by the pro-ban forces: “second-hand smoke does not kill anyone.”

Reeves also said that the law was overly intrusive. “We live in a world that is increasingly controlled by others,” he said. “I’m very afraid that ‘meat is murder’ is around the corner,” he said of his worries that laws restricting other aspects of life would follow the smoking ban.

Councillor Anthony Galluccio, who also voted in favor of the bill, repeated his beliefs that regulating workplaces fell into the jurisdiction of the state and national government. “Our federal government has sold out to the tobacco industry,” Galluccio said. He cited his support of an order requesting that the state regulate workplace smoking and bemoaned the “patchwork of regulations” that city-by-city bans have created.

Toomey, one of the two councillors who voted against the ban, said he abhored smoking and is “hopeful for the day tobacco is outlawed worldwide,” but that a state-wide ban is the “fairest way” to ban smoking in workplaces. Toomey is also a state representative and has co-sponsored a smoking ban in the state legislature.

Public opinion mixed

The public testimony section of the June 9 meeting was divided. Opponents of the ban arrived with placards that read “Tobacco control is out of control” and “smoking bans are fascist.” Supporters sported the green stickers of Clean Air Works, an organization dedicated to promoting smoking bans in Massachusetts.

Opponents compared the ban to McCarthyism, prohibition, and forced sterilization. Arguments in favor of the ban were equally emotional. One supporter asked councillors to protect pregnant women from the hazards of second-hand smoke.