New Hampshire To Go Smoke-Free
By Philip Elliott, Associated Press Writer | May 31, 2007
CONCORD, N.H. --New Hampshire soon will be joining its New England neighbors in banning smoking in bars and restaurants.
The House voted 224-117 Thursday to send a bill imposing the ban to Gov. John Lynch, who has said he will sign it. It will take effect 90 days later.
The bill died on a 12-11 vote in the Senate last year. This year, it passed the Senate easily, partly due to Democrats assuming control of the chamber in November.
More than a dozen states and hundreds of cities and counties around the country ban smoking in restaurants, bars or both. New Hampshire is the only state in New England that does neither.
Supporters say the ban is needed to protect workers and customers from the health risks of second-hand smoke.
"Employees should not be forced to sign away their health to earn a living," said Rep. Tara Reardon, a Concord Democrat. "This bill is not antismoker. It is antismoke."
Opponents argued the state should instead educate the public about the dangers of smoking and second-hand smoke. They also said restaurant and bar owners should decide when or if to ban smoking, not the state.
"The last time I checked, it was a legal activity," said Rep. John Hunt, a Rindge Republican who tried to amend the bill to allow "fully enclosed" smoking rooms in some businesses. The rooms would have been required to have separate ventilation systems, and employees would have been able to choose whether to enter them.
"There are bars that cater to smokers. ... Some of them are in your towns. And you are about to pass a bill -- if you don't pass this amendment -- that will put them out of business," Hunt said.
Despite the plea, the House defeated the amendment 216-135. Others joined the discrimination argument, however.
"Smokers are the only minorities I know of that society throws out into the cold in winter time," said Rep. Kenneth Weyler of Kingston. "Those zealots are out to eliminate all smoking in society."
Supporters of the bill said allowing smoking rooms would make it difficult for workers to say no to their employers. They said the rooms would be bad for smokers and their children, and for anyone seated near their doors.
Rep. Steve Vaillancourt, R-Manchester, said the bill doesn't go far enough.
"If we are going to do it, we should do it in these filthy little bars that masquerade as social, fraternal and religious organizations," Vaillancourt said. "The pope, if he smokes, will hurt you as much as a sailor on shore leave."
Social, fraternal and religious organizations and their private events are exempt from the ban. Smoking is permitted at the organizations' public events, such as bingo nights, only if smoking areas can be segregated effectively.
The House soundly defeated Vaillancourt's bid to eliminate the exemptions for social, fraternal and religious organizations.
New Hampshire already bans smoking in public buildings, offices and work places, except in smoking areas that are effectively segregated from nonsmoking areas.
Smoking also is banned in schools, child care agencies, hospitals, grocery stores, elevators, buses, tramways and gondolas.
An anti-smoking group, Clean Air Works for New Hampshire, praised the vote.
"This is a great day for workers in New Hampshire. This bipartisan legislation removes second-hand smoke from bars and restaurants and will improve air quality for workers across the state," spokeswoman Sarah Chaisson Warner said.
American Lung Association of New Hampshire President and CEO Daniel Fortin also applauded the move.
"This will positively impact not only the patrons of our state's restaurants and cocktail lounges, but also the many hospitality industry workers who truly deserve to have a smoke-free work environment," he said.