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Six Years After Ban, Smoking Returns to NYC's Bars and Clubs

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The worst kept secret in New York nightlife is that smoking is now allowed in numerous nightspots. Mayor Bloomberg's 2003 law was meant to effectively eliminate all smoking inside bars, and for a while it seemed to work. It was possible for non-smokers to spend a night at their favorite bar or club and not come home reeking of Parliaments, as smokers were forced to step outside to light up. Memories. By 2006, indoor smoking seemed to slowly reappear, starting with a handful of tiny little joints popular with A-list crowds and quickly spreading to just about any and every lounge and club with a doorman and a rope. Now, as soon as one person lights up, the rest of the smoking sheep follow along, and before can say Joe Camel, the whole room is filled with sweet Carolina smoke. Neighbors love it because it keeps noisy smokers off the streets, and smokers love not having to go outdoors for their fix. It seems the only places that are still enforcing the ban are the dingier and more low key bars that probably were the home of many a smoker before the ban.

From what operatives here have witnessed, It's obvious that the smoking ban is failing on a number of levels. Numerous lounge and club owners are turning a blind eye to their smoking customers breaking the law as they realize that the likelihood of the City catching them in the act is almost zilch. Meanwhile, non-smoking employees and customers, for whom the law was passed, are forced to inhale the second hand smoke. So what can be done?

Beyond increasing enforcement, what if the City created an opt-in clause that would allow bar owners to pay for the right to allow smoking? Their employees would know that they were working in a smoking-friendly environment, patrons would feel free to light up, and the City would see a bit of revenue. The annual charge (based upon capacity) would have to steep enough to make owners think twice about allowing smoking, but not so steep that no one would sign up. The fines for allowing smoking without a license would be steep, say four times the annual fee, so that owners will live up to their responsibilities.

Is it perfect? No. Workers stuck in the smoking venues may not find it so easy to relocate. But it would represent a huge step up from the free-for-all that exists today, allowing customers to know where they could have smoke free fun, reduce the number of venues that the City's enforcers have to inspect, and possibly bring in some money for our beloved and cash strapped City. Win, win win.

If you have your own ideas on how to resolve the issue, drop it in the comments section or let us know.

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