Nearly all New Jersey restaurants and bars will become smoke-free in 90 days.
On Monday, the New Jersey State Assembly overwhelmingly approved a ban on smoking in indoor public places, including most bars and restaurants and excluding the gaming areas of Atlantic City casinos.
The measure passed in the Assembly 64 to 12 with two abstentions. Acting Gov. Richard J. Codey said that he will sign the legislation before he leaves office on Tuesday.
“As one of the more progressive states in the nation, New Jersey should be setting an example on this issue,” Codey said. “With all of the facts we know today, we need to do whatever we can to protect our workers and patrons from being exposed to the dangers of second-hand smoke.”
New Jersey will become the 11th state with such a strict prohibition. New York and Connecticut passed similar bans in 2003.
What would change?
The “New Jersey Smoke-Free Air Act” (A-3730), which is sponsored by assemblymen Reed Gusciora and Louis Manzo (D-31st Dist.), prohibits smoking at indoor public places, workplaces, and elementary and secondary school grounds.
Other banned areas include bowling alleys, fraternal organizations, and social clubs – including the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars halls, and country clubs.
Smoking will still be permitted in cigar bars, tobacco shops, and outdoor bars, restaurants and cafes. In Hoboken, bars in restaurants such as Hoboken Dubliner, City Bistro, the Jefferson and Oddfellows Rest already have separate outdoor areas where smoking will still be allowed.
The bill calls for a fine of $250 for a first offense smoking violation, $500 for a second offense and $1,000 for each subsequent offense to both smokers and venue operators.
“This is a historic public policy decision,” Gusciora said. “For years, the ill effects of cigarette and second-hand smoke have been well documented. Yet bar and restaurant employees … are put at risk daily because of the smoking habits of their patrons.”
Despite criticism from tavern owners, Manzo, who sits on the state Assembly Health Committee and once served as a health officer in Hudson County and Jersey City, said he believed the action was the right thing to do. “This is a Class A carcinogen,” he said. “Second-hand smoke causes illness in people who breathe it in. It is more dangerous than asbestos and arsenic because second- hand smoke accounts for more deaths per year than all the other Class A carcinogens combined.”
Manzo said 1,800 smoke-related deaths occur in New Jersey each year, and annual health costs to the state total around $350 million.
“While the restaurant industry argued against the bill, their argument seemed faulty to me,” Manzo said. “They told us that 67 percent of their business already has no smoking. In the other states where the ban is in place, we’ve seen no negative impact on business.”
Manzo hopes the smoking ban will soon include casinos.
“But we intend to address the casinos in the next session of the legislature,” he said.
The smoking ban could have a dramatic effect in places like Hoboken and Jersey City that have an active restaurant and bar scene.
Nick Babalis, the owner of The Malibu Diner in Hoboken, said that he expects to lose customers and add-on sales because of the ban. He said customers might not stay after a meal because they want to smoke, and he would lose sales because they might not get dessert or another drink.
He added that every business should be allowed to “offer what they want.”
Another issue will be noise, with smokers being forced outside the bars.
Randy Winslow, a general manager at the Texas Arizona restaurant in Hoboken, complained that instead of people leaving when the bar closes, neighborhoods will have to deal with rowdy, drunk people standing outside all night. Winslow also said there could be more litter and vandalism.
Winslow said that instead of the ban, the state should have simply regulated the air quality in bars and restaurants. He said that bars could install improved ventilation systems.
Bar owners in Bayonne not happy
One of the most vocal critics of the ban is Ed Jakubick, the owner of Churchill’s Inn in Bayonne for 30 years, who supported a suggestion by another tavern owner, Peg’s Place, that signs saying “enter at your own risk” be posted outside each establishment.
Jakubick agreed with Manzo in one regard.
“The impact on business isn’t going to be bad,” he said. “The majority of my customers don’t smoke. But this is a matter of principle. Those who do smoke should be able to smoke. If that bothers other people, they go somewhere else. I know that sounds blunt.”
Jakubick said this opens the door to other regulations that may be even more odious.
“If the government can ban smoking today, what will they ban tomorrow?” he asked.
Correspondent Joe Michener contributed to this story.