Businesses fume over smoking ban

A new state law, set to take effect April 15, bans smoking in most public places including bars and restaurants.

By:Lea Kahn Staff Writer
Patrons at McGuinn’s Place may have occasional disagreements, but on one topic they are united — the state’s new smoking ban in bars, restaurants and bowling alleys, but not casinos, is unfair.
   While the legislation was signed into law by Gov. Richard Codey on Sunday, state Sen. Shirley Turner (D-Lawrence) said Monday afternoon she is drafting a bill that would add casinos to the list — making the statewide ban on cigarette smoking complete.
   The new law, which takes effect April 15, provides a $250 fine for the first offense, $500 for the second offense and $1,000 for each subsequent offense.
   According to the American Lung Association, secondhand smoke causes some 3,000 lung cancer deaths and 35,000 heart disease deaths in adult nonsmokers in the United States each year. New Jersey will become the 11th state, including California, New York and Delaware, to enact such a smoking ban.
   Peter Rickett and Dave Gennevesse were sitting on opposite sides of the bar at McGuinn’s Place on Brunswick Pike last week, smoking cigarettes and sipping their beverage of choice.
   "(A bar) is an environment where if you drink, you smoke," said Mr. Rickett, who lives on Bunker Hill Road. "It goes hand in hand. If you subject yourself to a bar, you are giving up your right to freedom from smoke. People drink and smoke."
   Mr. Rickett said he could understand and respect a prohibition on smoking in restaurants, because there may be children present. Nevertheless, he said, a restaurant could provide separate smoking and no-smoking areas.
   Mr. Gennevesse, who lives in Trenton, said he did not approve of the law.
   "I think it’s bad because you can smoke in a casino," Mr. Gennevesse said. "Why should casinos be singled out? I can see not smoking in a restaurant. If you don’t want to smell smoke, don’t come here (to a bar)."
   But down the road at the Franklin Tavern on Franklin Corner Road, patron Frank Mack said he agrees with the new law.
   "I am a nonsmoker," said Mr. Mack, a Morrisville, Pa., resident who stops at the bar after work. "I agree with the new law. I have nothing against smokers, but sometimes it’s annoying. I come here for an hour after work, and I go home smelling like cigarettes."
   The owners of the two bars, meanwhile, are nonsmokers. The owner of the Franklin Tavern was philosophical about the ban, but the owner of McGuinn’s Place said she was upset about it.
   "I don’t smoke, so it’s good for me," said Baskar Patel of the Franklin Tavern, which contains a small bar at the rear of the business. Many people who stop at the Franklin Corner Road tavern purchase beer or alcoholic beverages to take home with them, he said.
   Mr. Patel said he must comply with the law. It doesn’t matter whether he supports it or not, he said. It is good for nonsmoking customers, he said, adding that most of his patrons are nonsmokers.
   Mr. Patel said it was too soon to know whether the new law would affect his business, but Judy McGuinn, who owns McGuinn’s Place, said she believed it would have a negative effect on her business.
   "I can’t imagine it not hurting business," Ms. McGuinn said. "I’m going to lose business, but I don’t know how much. It’s so hard to say (what the impact will be). It seems like 95 percent of the people who come in here smoke (cigarettes)."
   "The idea is, it’s taking away people’s rights," she said. "Smokers have rights, too, just like nonsmokers. The government is taking away something. People have the right to smoke. Smokers have the right to pick where they want to smoke."
   Ms. McGuinn said it was unfair to exclude the Atlantic City casinos from the new law. The casinos should face the same restrictions as bars and restaurants — then, it would have been fair, she said.
   The managers of two restaurants — the Crystal Diner and Michael’s, both located on Brunswick Pike — said they were concerned that the new law would result in a loss of business. The restaurants have smoking and no-smoking sections.
   Ali Ekiz, who manages the Crystal Diner, said he does not like the new law.
   "We have smoking and non-smoking areas, and I have seen here most of the time the smoking section is more full than the non-smoking section," Mr. Ekiz said.
   The 108-seat restaurant, which is open around the clock, has reserved about 75 percent of the seats for non-smokers and about 25 percent for smokers, Mr. Ekiz said. "I think we will lose business."
   If the Crystal Diner loses business, it may be necessary to reduce the 30-member staff, Mr. Ekiz said. That decision will be made later, after the law has been in effect for a few months, he added.
   Andy Mantzoukas, who manages Michael’s restaurant, was more philosophical.
   "If the law says ‘no smoking,’ there is nothing we can do," Mr. Mantzoukas said. "It will have to be okay with us if there is no smoking. It will have a little bit of impact on the business. There are a lot of cigarette smokers."
   Mr. Mantzoukas also said that if business declines, it may be necessary to reduce the staff of 22 to 25 people. He added that he is almost certain that business will decline because of the smoking ban.
   The manager of the Colonial Lanes bowling alley on Brunswick Pike, opposite the Lawrence Shopping Center, also objected to the new law because he fears it will harm his business.
   General Manager Martin Goehrig spent several days last week handing out flyers to league bowlers asking if they would return next season.
   More than 200, or about 18 percent, of league bowlers at Colonial Lanes said they may cross the river to bowl in Pennsylvania, where smoking is still legal indoors.
   "I’ve got 29 employees," Mr. Goehrig said. "Once this goes into effect, I may have 14."
   Mr. Goehrig does not dispute the health benefits of enacting the ban. He objects to the exemptions of casinos from the ban.
   While the owners of the two bars and the manager of the bowling alley are concerned about the new law’s impact, the majority of restaurants in Lawrence already are smoke-free. A handful of chain restaurants permit smoking, but other chains — such as Burger King, McDonald’s, Subway and Quiznos — ban smoking.
   Upscale restaurants such as Acacia, Vidalia and the Lawrenceville Inn are smoke-free. The ten restaurants at the Quaker Bridge Mall also are smoke-free, according to a pamphlet distributed by the Lawrence Township Health Department.
Packet Group reporter Emily Craighead contributed to this report.