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Turning to Albany to Preserve a Smoke-Filled Room

Publication Date: 2/8/2010
  • Author:Nicholas Confessore
  • Publication:New York Times City Room

When Nat Sherman, the venerable Midtown tobacconist, opened its new showroom on 42nd Street showroom a few years ago, it quickly ran into a problem. The showroom included a private smoking lounge, known as the Johnson Club Room, where members and guests could enjoy a drink or a snack along with their cigars, pipes, and cigarettes. But under New York law, smoking is forbidden wherever food or beverages are served to the public.

When city officials twice rebuffed the company's requests for a waiver, Nat Sherman sought the intervention of a higher power: The New York State Legislature.

Two Democrats, Senator Jeffrey Klein of the Bronx and Assemblyman Jonathan L. Bing of Manhattan, are sponsoring legislation that would specifically carve out an exception for the company --or, as the bill reads, any retail tobacco business "that was in existence prior to nineteen hundred forty-seven." (Nat Sherman was officially incorporated in November 1946.)

The bill would also exempt such a business from New York City's own stringent antismoking laws, otherwise known as "any regulations or local laws adopted by a city with a population of one million or more."

"The bill is narrowly drawn so theres one specific location," Mr. Bing said. "Its a company that provides jobs and revenue throughout the city. In this difficult economic time, we should be helping businesses succeed instead of putting impediments to them doing so."

Others are not so sure.

"This bill would put private profit ahead of public health, said Russell Sciandra, a tobacco policy specialist for the American Cancer Society. "In the more than six years that this law has been in effect, weve found that the health benefits of a smoke-free workplace are even greater than we expected. To allow anyone to blow a hole in the city and state laws is unconscionable."