Town board approves smoking regulations for bars, restaurants

The Williamstown Board of Health voted Monday night to modify the town’s smoking regulations. A unanimous vote banned smoking in all town restaurants, but the more controversial provisions regarding smoking in bars and lounges provoked debate among the five members of the Board of Health, resulting in the passing of a more moderate compromise plan.

Chairman Richard Hoar opened the meeting with a background of the smoking ban issue, emphasizing the past opportunities available for the public to submit comments, and a warning to those present. “Today, no comments are required or expected and are unacceptable at this time,” Hoar said.

Hoar brought up the issue of smoking in restaurants. Restaurants with a seating capacity of 51 or more are already required to be smoke-free. Establishments that seat 50 or fewer can designate 30 percent of the establishment as a smoking area. The board voted unanimously to ban smoking in restaurants of this size.

The board then addressed the issue of smoking in bars and lounges. Hoar stated that there were ten bar/lounges in Williamstown. Two, Moonlight Diner and Grille and Hobson’s Choice, are non-smoking. The remaining establishments allow smoking: Four Acres Restaurant, Water Street Grill, Waubeeka Golf Links, the 1896 House, the Williams Inn, the Orchards, the Taconic Restaurant, Captain’s Table, the Purple Pub, Canterbury’s and Cozy Corner. The last four bars are extremely opposed to a smoking ban.

Board members discussed why they wanted see more regulations on smoking. Dr. Wallace Graves noted the negative impact of second-hand smoke and the example smokers set to children, given the rise in smoking in young people. He pointed out that many establishments in Williamstown have banned smoking altogether and a smoking ban would be “following on the heels of what seems to work well.”

Vice Chairman Rob Stant concurred. “I see a lot more people with allergies and breathing disorders,” he said. “Smoking is dangerous [to them] especially where ventilation is bad.”

Ruth Richardson, a registered nurse, commented, “I have been in the medical field all my life and I am in agreement with the smoking ban.”

Graves suggested a motion banning smoking in all bars and lounges. None of the other board members, however, seconded the proposal, killing the motion.

Leslie Reed-Evans then proposed a motion that the bars had the right to choose to declare their establishment smoking or non-smoking, but with the understanding that a decision of non-smoking would be irrevocable. Those bars that condone smoking must abide with four provisions: no more than 30 percent of the room can allow smoking; the area must have independent ventilated inspected and approved by the Department of Inspectional Services; the bar must be enclosed within four solid walls with an attached ceiling and solid self-closing doors; and smoking may not be permitted until after 6 p.m.

Stant seconded the proposal. The board voted 3-0-2 to pass the plan.

Graves bitterly resented the board’s decision not to vote on a complete smoking ban in bars. “This is a disastrous motion,” he said before the vote. “If I vote against it, it may go back to the way it was before. This is a terrible motion and I will abstain.” After Reed-Evans’ proposal was passed, Graves left the meeting.

Reed-Evans defended her support of the proposal. “I am concerned about economics,” she said before the vote. “There are people who go to bars to relax and smoke. I don’t frequent bars because of that, but it is their choice.”

Several proprietors of local smoking bars attended the board meeting. They were concerned that a total smoking ban would put a damper on business. “We estimated that 60 percent of our business would be lost if this proposal went into effect,” said Bill Caprari, owner of Canterbury’s.

The new smoking regulations will go into effect May 1, 2000.

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