NEW YORK, Aug. 12 (UPI) -- New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Monday he wanted the last bastions where smoking has been allowed -- bars, smaller restaurants pool halls, bingo parlors and bowling alleys -- to become totally smoke free.
"The legislation has to got through a hearing process but we believe the bill will be approved by the New York City Council," City Hall spokesman Jordan Barowitz, told United Press International. "The mayor has had a longstanding desire to reduce smoking and to reduce the negative effects of smoking on people's health."
According to city Health Commissioner Thomas Frieden, just 30 minutes of smoke exposure makes the blood clot and arteries react the same way a chronic smoker's do -- increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke.
"Second-hand smoke causes more cancer deaths than asbestos, benzene, arsenic, pesticides, hazardous wastes sites, industrial chemicals, contaminated sludge, and consumer products combined," Frieden said. "Second-hand smoke kills approximately 1,000 New York City residents every year. That is why we must act now."
Traditionally when anti-smoking legislation has been proposed, many owners of bars and restaurants have said that smoking and drinking go hand in hand and that their businesses would suffer as a result of the smoking ban.
However, a survey commissioned by the New York City Coalition for a Smoke-Free City, along with the American Cancer Society and the American Heart and Lung associations, found 86 percent of city residents said they would dine out as much or even more often in the event of a ban, and 72 percent would go to bars as much or more often.
The poll of 1,000 city residents was conducted earlier this month by the research firm Global Strategy Group. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.
"I am proud that New York City will be a national leader in tackling the most pressing public health issue facing all Americans today: the devastating consequences of smoking," said Bloomberg. "No one should have to breathe poison to hold a job or frequent an indoor public space."
According to Bloomberg, studies have shown that employees in bars and in restaurants where smoking is permitted have a 50 percent higher risk of lung cancer than other workers, even after taking their own smoking habits into account.
"Working one eight-hour shift in a smoky bar exposes one to the same amount of carcinogens as smoking half a pack of cigarettes a day," the Republican mayor said.
"As healthcare workers, this issue is of paramount importance," said Dennis Rivera, president of Local 1199 of the National Health & Human Services Union. "Each day, the 215,000 members see the suffering caused by tobacco smoke -- quite often among the poorest New Yorkers who are victims of a work environment over which they have no control."
Michael O'Neal, owner of O'Neal's restaurant and a past president of the New York State Restaurant Association, supported the city smoking ban and said anti-smoking laws do not hurt profits.
"We were warned over and over in 1994 that many restaurants would go out of business if the Smoke-Free Air Act (of 1995) was enacted," said O'Neal. "But after the law went into effect, the restaurant business in New York City boomed and the city's restaurant industry and employment grew significantly more than it did in the rest of the state, which by and large has not placed restrictions on smoking."
Neither the New York State Restaurant Association or the Empire State Restaurant and Tavern Association were available for comment.
Negotiations in the state Legislature in Albany, N.Y. had come close to an agreement in June for a statewide uniform smoking law that would ban smoking in the dining areas of all restaurants in New York.
Under the bill, smoking in a bar separated from the dining room by a wall or at least six feet of space would be allowed, but smoking for diners would be permitted only in a special, enclosed dining room with its own ventilation system.
The Empire State Tavern and Restaurant Association's executive director, Scott Wexler, said the state law would be prohibitive for diners, coffee shops and pubs because the smallest establishments could go out of business because their smoking customers would go to larger restaurants that could provide the special smoking areas.
If the statewide ban exempted restaurants under 35 seats, Wexler said his group could support the measure.
Bloomberg's legislation will be introduced by the city council on Thursday.