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In the Crossfire

Clearing the air on Big Apple smoking ban plan

(CNN) -- New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is proposing a smoking ban in all city restaurants and bars.

Is Bloomberg's plan a victory for public health or discrimination against smokers? Should people be allowed to light up over a meal, or are the dangers to those around them too high?

Audrey Silk, a smoking advocate, and radio talk-show host John Gambling step into the "Crossfire" with hosts Paul Begala and Robert Novak.

BEGALA: Ms. Silk, I used to be a bartender. That's how I got through college. Why should you and your friends poison me? ...

SILK: You know, the Oak Ridge National Laboratory conducted a study where they actually put air monitors on people, on wait staff, where they followed them in a normal routine of their day, and found they inhaled below the OSHA [Occupational Safety and Health Administration] standards, the permissible standards allowed. It's well below a risk to health. So these are nothing but Trojan horses to end smoking and using secondhand smoke as a way to do that.

BEGALA: I'm just curious. You have a perfect right to privacy. But have you ever waited tables at a bar or worked as a bartender? Because I have, and I can tell you firsthand there's a lot of pollution there.

NOVAK: You should have kept at it, Paul.

BEGALA: Have you ever done that?

SILK: Well, you didn't have to work there if it bothers you.

BEGALA: Why -- because I had to pay my way through college ...

SILK: There are other jobs.

BEGALA: I didn't have a trust fund; I just had to work for a living. No, I should have the right to work without people polluting my air the way in an office building, people do or in other places of business.

SILK: You have a right to work where it is ...

BEGALA: Why not, Ms. Silk?

SILK: If it's unpleasant for you, you can work somewhere else. Not every job is conducive to every person. How many people want to be a cop? Do they take the job because it has good benefits?

NOVAK: John Gambling, let me try to see if I can figure this out. New York has always puzzled me, no matter who is the mayor. And you've got a situation where several places you go in town, big restaurants, they have smoking sections and nonsmoking sections. I'm a nonsmoker. I sit in the nonsmoking section. There are other small bars that don't have that regulation.

Why in the world would the mayor say no smoking anywhere? Does that make any sense at all?

GAMBLING: Well, it makes a lot of sense to me. The mayor was on with me [Friday] morning at WABC, and he and I talked about this. But Bob, as you know, in those big restaurants where they have smoking and nonsmoking sections, you can just as easily be sitting close enough to somebody, the air conditioning can drag the smoke over to you. And you know what? It just stinks.

We can get into the health problems that are caused by secondhand smoke; we can go through all of the details, but it is a quality of life issue that I think is a great idea on the mayor's part to ban it.

NOVAK: I've never had that trouble in New York but forget about me. What about the small saloon owner -- they still have saloons in New York -- corner saloon who's trying to get by.

Let's see what Scott Wexler of the Empire State Restaurant and Tavern Association says. He says, "We believe that the current law in New York City is working and any further restructuring will cause economic harm to the 10,000 on-premise licensees of bars and taverns in New York City."

Don't you have any sympathy for those small businessmen and entrepreneurs?

GAMBLING: Bob, there is absolutely no statistical evidence that when California banned smoking in bars and restaurants that it had any impact whatsoever on the clientele and the businesses.

SILK: That's incorrect. Listen to the -- the personal stories, forget about the studies manipulated by people who are pushing this agenda. I have hundreds of stories from bar -- business owners and bar owners and restaurant owners who said they have lost lots of money, had to lay people off.

Why in California are businesses that are following the law suing businesses -- bars that are not following the law for stealing their customers if it's such a good idea?

BEGALA: Well, in fact, Ms. Silk, the New York State Restaurant Association has dropped its longstanding opposition to this because most restaurants in New York actually want this bill.

SILK: No ...

BEGALA: Let me give you one story. You asked for one. Michael O'Neal runs a joint called O'Neal's Lincoln Center Restaurant. I'm going to go there next time I'm in New York because this is what he says ...

SILK: He allows smoking.

BEGALA: "You go to a Yankees game, you can't smoke," he says. "You ride in an airplane to California, you can't smoke. Why do you have to smoke in a restaurant or a bar?" How do you answer Mr. O'Neal, a restaurant owner?

SILK: Exactly, a restaurant owner, a private establishment. It is not a public place. It invites the public to enter. They can refuse the right to serve you. If you do not like the way the atmosphere is in that place, the music, the food they serve, go somewhere else.

We're not asking for all of the places to be smoking. We want to have a choice. We're more than happy to have as many nonsmoking restaurants or more because there are more nonsmokers. But let the owner decide. It's a private place. He pays for it.

NOVAK: That's the point I don't under -- go ahead, Mr. Gambling.

GAMBLING: Well, what I was going to say is the law doesn't allow that restaurant owner to serve poisonous food, tainted food, food with E. coli, all of those things.

SILK: The difference there is that people cannot know, and that's why you have the health department to go in and check for those things. But you can put your head in the door, see if there's smoke, decide whether you like it or not and leave or stay.

NOVAK: See, that's the point. John Gambling, I think one of the things we're losing in this country is personal freedom. And, you know, there are people in New York City who like to go into a bar, get the kind of place that you work -- and maybe you should have stayed in that line of work -- and get a drink or maybe two drinks or three drinks and sit there smoking a cigarette.

Now that may sound obnoxious to a lot of do-gooders, but that's a hell of a nice way to spend the evening. Why should you take that pleasure away from people?

GAMBLING: Bob, I don't know if you're a smoker or not, but if you and I go into the bar together ...

NOVAK: I'm not.

GAMBLING: If you and I went into the bar together and you were a smoker, why should I have to sit in there and inhale this obnoxious, deadly ...

NOVAK: Go to a different bar.

SILK: Exactly. You can leave.

BEGALA: But, Silk, you can't. There are no bars ... I'm sorry. Go ahead, Mr. Gambling.

GAMBLING: I was just going to say, but you can also walk out and have a cigarette on the street. Nobody's telling you you can't smoke a cigarette. They're just telling you you can't do it there.

SILK: But it's not up to us. It's not up to me as the smoker, and it's not up to you as the nonsmoker to decide these things. And it's not up to the mayor or the government to intrude on private business. They can decide for themselves how to best serve their customers. If 100 percent of them are smoking, then you lose. If 100 percent of them decide on their own to go nonsmoking, I lose.




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