Citing ‘pet peeve,’ NH rep seeks to overturn smoking ban

Lodging & Restaurant Association opposes bill

Should New Hampshire become a “smoking tourist destination?”

Those are the words and vision of NH Rep. Robert Hull, R-Grafton, who introduced House Bill 279, which would repeal much of the decade-old law that forbids smoking in most privately owned public places, including restaurants, grocery stores, buses and taxis. It would leave in place the ban in public places, such as schools and government buildings.

The bill has resulted in an outcry from the American Cancer Society, which testified at the bill’s initial Jan. 11 hearing in front of the House Commerce Committee. Even with the ban, according to Mike Rollo, a lobbyist for the organization, some 8,670 New Hampshire residents were diagnosed with cancer last year, with nearly a third of that number dying from it.

“The science is clear,” testified Rollo. ”There is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke. Tobacco smoke contains over 7,000 chemicals, including hundreds that are toxic and about 70 that can cause cancer.”

Rollo also cited a study by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers, about the inability to keep the fumes of a segregated smoking room away from the rest of the patrons.

Supportive calls

Few believed that New Hampshire would bring smoking in restaurants back, Rollo said, but the House Commerce Committee did give the bill a warm reception, which is one of the reason he sounded the alarm.

Thanks to the publicity, Hull told NH Business Review, he has been getting supportive calls from out of state, from those who said they would travel to New Hampshire just so they could dine while breathing in tobacco smoke.

“It’s always been my pet peeve that we are in the Live Free and Die state and we are not allowed to light up in a restaurant,” he said. If his bill passes, he said, “we would be an oasis of freedom surrounded by a desert of prohibition.”

No thanks, said the NH Lodging and Restaurant Association, whose members voted on Jan. 18 to oppose the bill.

“It wasn’t even close,” said Mike Somers, president and CEO of the association. “We lived with this for 10 years. It doesn’t make a lot of sense going backward at this time.

The association’s lobbyist, Henry Veilleux, pointed out that the smoking ban actually helped, rather than hurt, sales.

Hull said no business would be forced to allow smoking, but he added that it should be up to the owner, not the state, to decide what’s best for a business.

But, said the Cancer Society’s Rollo, “it’s not just about the business and the consumer. What about the employees?”

In rural areas in particular, he said, those without transportation would have no choice but to continue to work in an environment where they will have to breathe in smoke all day.

Categories: Government, News