John Froehling, head trustee at the Rod and Gun Club in Laconia, said the private social club attracted many members alienated by other area clubs that banned smoking. A legislative proposal to repeal a decade-old prohibition on smoking in public places which are privately owned, such as restaurants, could be a boon to restaurant owners who target smokers, he said. (David Carkhuff/The Laconia Daily Sun)
Cool reception: Restaurants balk at bill to undo smoking ban
By DAVID CARKHUFF/THE LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — Restaurants could thrive if lawmakers rolled back the clock and allowed smoking in private businesses, according to advocates for a bill that would undo smoking bans in New Hampshire.
Others — including the New Hampshire Lodging & Restaurant Association — argue that times have changed and there's no going back to the days of indoor smoking, without inflicting a host of thorny problems, particularly on restaurant owners.
House Bill 279 would repeal a decade-old prohibition on smoking in public places which are privately owned, including restaurants, grocery stores and cocktail lounges. The bill would give discretion for business owners to maintain a ban. New Hampshire Rep. Robert Hull, R-Grafton, who introduced the bill, has argued that business owners, not the state, should decide what's best for customers and their businesses.
HB279 had a subcommittee work session on Tuesday, Feb. 7, and it was scheduled for an executive session — executive sessions typically are legislative meetings where committees take final votes on bills — on Wednesday, Feb. 8, but legislative staff reported that the bill needs more subcommittee work so the executive session has been postponed. A schedule for further committee review will be posted at http://gencourt.state.nh.us/house/committees/committeedetails.aspx?code=H43.
The bill is not due out of the House Commerce and Consumer Affairs Committee until March 2, staff reported.
The health effects of HB279 have been debated — the American Cancer Society and others testified against the bill on that basis. But the economics of the legislation remain a point of speculation.
Peter Karagianis, owner of Happy Jack's Cigar, Pipe and Tobacco Shop in Laconia, said cigar smoking has "plateaued at a high point" and pipe smoking is enjoying renewed popularity, and he voiced sympathy for customers who want to indulge in a cigar or pipe.
"Maybe there's a happy medium. Not a free-for-all where you can smoke anywhere, but if you own a business and you wish to have that smoking, it's up to the individual landowner and business owner to decide," he said.
"I think it would be a good thing if people had those rights back as well as those people who want to smoke aren't treated like pariahs," Karagianis said.
John Froehling, head trustee at the Rod and Gun Club in Laconia, a private social club with about 400 members, said restaurants could prosper if they were allowed to reinstate indoor smoking. Private social clubs like the Rod and Gun Club are treated differently under state law and permitted to establish smoking areas for paying members.
When other social clubs halted indoor smoking, "they all lost a lot of business, and we got a lot of their business here," Froehling said.
"They lose a lot of business, and a lot of them are starting to think now, 'Maybe we should bring back smoking,'" he said.
If HB279 passed, restaurants could tap into that same unserved demographic of customers — frustrated smokers, he said.
"If they open up the restaurants, it will be the same thing, some restaurants are going to do it, some restaurants aren't. It's good for business for them. There are still a lot of people out that are smoking, and they have rights, too," Froehling said. "I hope it passes for them. But it's also going to be hit and miss. I think the ones with the smoking are going to do more business."
Six smoke-eaters at the Rod and Gun Club aim to eliminate the haze that once permeated businesses prior to bans on indoor smoking.
At the Rod and Gun Club, the bar section is open to smoking, but the rental area is off limits to smoking.
Patrons who smoke complain that the club is the only place they're welcome, Froehling said.
"All day long, we get a lot of that," he said. "We're always packed here. They know they can come here and smoke."
Mike Somers, president and CEO of the New Hampshire Lodging & Restaurant Association, said the association is opposed to the legislation. "We're not fans of it. I think it's a case of once upon a time. ..."
The "good old days" for smokers can't easily be restored, Somers said. "We're not sure of where the liability would stand for employees. That creates a whole bunch of questions, what does it do for insurance premiums, liability," particularly for a restaurant owner whose employees became sick from breathing cigarette smoke.
Consumers are used to nonsmoking environments, he added.
"I think the vast majority of folks are pretty happy with the status quo," Somers said.
Brett Marquis, general manager at Fratello's Italian Grille in Laconia, said he couldn't envision the restaurant ever reinstating indoor smoking.
"It's shocking to me. I highly doubt that it's going to pass," Marquis said of the legislation.
"We definitely wouldn't go back. We would not allow smoking. We did years ago in the lounge. It's moving backward," he said.
Somers said restaurant owners worry about a yo-yo of back-and-forth legislation.
"Frankly I think the biggest fear is if they repeal it now, then we're back in two years or four years," with another legislative proposal to reinstate the ban, he said.
It's unclear if the legislation has the votes to clear committee, but Somers said the association is paying attention.
"We've been watching it closely just to see what happens," he said.
Reaction to the bill from our readers on Facebook:
• Ann Marie Morse – Nooooo
• Marie Scott – Absolutely disgusting.
• Patty DePalma – Sucks. Please don’t
• Kelly Green Ray – Seriously! Why would anyone even think this is ok
• Crystal Bonin I’m curious about who introduced this and why. I don’t see any way of this passing into law, especially given the evidence of the effects of secondhand smoke.
• Bethany Miller –I smoke..but not inside!! Please no!!
• Christine Cabral LeBlanc – I think this is a huge step backwards in terms of public health. As a patron I can chose to avoid these places, but employees don’t have that option.
• Mike N Andrea Burke – Considering all the health conscious people these days I doubt that will pass...it’s just foolish. What would be the point of banning people to smoke in cars with kids but public buildings are ok?? (Still blowing smoke in our air no thanks) People need to keep their cancer causing chemicals to themselves
• Amy Couture Lesniak – Gross ...if they do it’s a place we won’t ever go to
• Cynthia Ferris Rose – This is just silly. Why on earth would anyone vote for this? I understand freedom of choice, but this would be ONE GIANT STEP BACKWARD.
• Christy Dolat Bartlett – I’m on the Commerce Committee hearing this bill. The aim for the “Free Stater” that brought it is to continue to reduce regulation wherever they see it! Nevermind that we are all receiving hundreds of emails running more than 99 to 1 against the bill! There is still support among the Republicans and I’m not sure how this will come out of committee. However, there are many Republicans that are horrified, so I’m hoping that reasonable minds will be stronger. The Democrats are very united opposing this bill, but we’re in the minority. Keep up the vocal opposition, please!
• Jan Wainwright – The federal government is trying to put us back 30 years, why should it surprise anyone that state government would do the same?
• Christopher Richards – Doesn’t bother me
• Laura Fitts – Please DON’T. It’s bad enough when you can smell it on someone while trying to buy groceries!
House Bill 279 is not due out of the House Commerce and Consumer Affairs Committee until March 2. For now, "No Smoking" signs like this one on a Laconia restaurant will remain commonplace. (David Carkhuff/The Laconia Daily Sun)
Happy Jack's Cigar, Pipe and Tobacco Shop in Laconia. (David Carkhuff/Laconia Daily Sun)