Bloomberg touts 10-year anniversary of NYC smoking ban

NEW YORK—Mayor Michael Bloomberg took a victory lap Wednesday, heralding the 10-year anniversary of a ban on smoking at the city’s bars and restaurants as “one of the best things that ever happened” to New York.

Enacted in 2003, the Smoke-Free Air Act—one of the first major health initiatives Bloomberg pursued as mayor—was at first mired in controversy. Among other things, opponents argued it would kill the city’s bar and restaurant industry, and hurt tourism.

But at a press conference at Old Town Bar, one of Manhattan’s oldest taverns, Bloomberg insisted those critics were wrong. He credited a nearly 50 percent growth in the hospitality industry to the fact that more people are dining out because they can do so without being around smoke.

Bloomberg also touted stats showing at least 500 cities around the country that have adopted similar bans as proof that New York—and his administration—has been a leader in “innovative” municipal policies.

“People want to come here because we are healthier,” Bloomberg said, describing the results of the bill as “very gratifying.” He added, “I think it’s fair to say that nobody wants to go back to the way things were.”

Bloomberg said at least 10,000 smoking-related deaths have been prevented in New York because of the smoking ban. And he directly linked the smoke-free legislation to stats showing the life expectancy of New Yorkers is longer than ever—80.9 years, three years longer than the national average.

“Back then many people opposed the bill, and they tried to stop it. They said it was taking away people’s rights as though nonsmokers didn’t have the right to breathe clean air. They said it would destroy the restaurant and bar business in the city, as well as our tourism industry. There were dire predictions about how the ban would lead to job losses and tax revenue [losses],” Bloomberg said. “Well, here we are 10 years later, and we can look back now and see how accurate those four claims were. I think it’s safe to say the Smoke-Free Air Act has been one of the best things that has ever happened to [the] restaurant, bar and tourism industries.”

Bloomberg’s claims were backed up by Gerard Meagher, the owner of Old Town Bar, who said he opposed the ban when it went into effect a decade ago. But speaking to reporters, he pointed to the bar's antique light fixtures and old mirrors, which date back to the tavern's opening in 1892. He said the fixtures used to turn yellow from smoke but now need to be cleaned less. And he said he’s getting more business, in part because people have become used to nonsmoking venues.

“It turned out to be great, not this bad thing that I thought it would be,” Meagher said. At his side, Bloomberg beamed.

Bloomberg’s desire to tout the effects of the smoking ban comes as he’s been criticized as a “nanny” mayor for continuing to pursue sweeping health policies in the final months of his tenure at City Hall, including limits on the sales of large, sugary drinks. A judge earlier this month threw out the so-called soda ban, saying, in part, that the city had overstepped its powers. The Bloomberg administration is now appealing.

Last week, Bloomberg proposed another citywide regulation, this one requiring retailers to physically hide cigarettes behind counters. The bill was introduced before the City Council last week.