Panter: Smoking bill needed but falls short

Assemblyman says bill could save thousands of lives

By: Marisa Maldonado
   TRENTON — The New Jersey Smoke-Free Act sat in the state Legislature for a decade before being passed earlier this week. For Assemblyman Michael Panter, it was a "no-brainer" to co-sponsor a bill that he believes could save the lives of thousands of people a year.
   "There are so many dangers to the people we represent that we can’t do much about, whether it’s heart disease of crime or poverty," said Assemblyman Panter, D-12th. "But there are 54,000 preventable deaths from secondhand smoke across the country every year."
   In talking to restaurant owners in New York City, where a similar ban was passed in 2003, he found that few of them reported a subsequent loss in business. In fact, he added, the bill could increase traffic at some restaurants, as constituents have commented on the joy of eating dinner in the city without smoke blowing in their faces.
   "I think a lot of folks will actually go out to restaurants more often, because they know they’ll be breathing fresh air," he said.
   While Assemblyman Panter said the legislation represents "significant progress," he added that it also contains flaws. The bill exempts cigar bars and casinos, as some legislators wanted to further research the impact a ban would have on those institutions, he said.
   He would support any future bills that would extend the ban to casinos.
   "It’s the right thing to do," he said. "There’s no reason we should have an exception."