Clear sailing for restaurant smoking ban?

Once upon a time, all you had to do was breathe the phrase, Ban smoking in restaurants,” and you would see fire coming from the New Hampshire Lodging and Restaurant Association. No longer.

Smoking is already banned in most dining establishments and cocktail lounges, but eateries that seat less than 50 and lounges that are walled off from the dining facilities were exempt. Now State Rep. Sheila Francouer , R-Hampton, chair of the House Commerce Committee, plans on introducing a bill to end that exemption.

Francouer has voted against such smoking bans in the past, but she was won over after hearing from employees who no longer had to breathe in customer’s exhaust.. Furthermore, she said, “restaurants have not lost business, and have in some cases increased business. All the arguments there two or four years ago are not there.”

At least the Lodging and Restaurant Association won’t be making them, but It’s not that restaurant owners don’t care. The association also opposed such legislation in the past, but when it polled its membership, it was split right down the middle on the issue. Some said a smoking ban should be a business decision, not a government decision. Others said that since it was a health issue, everybody should be made to follow the same rules.

“It’s a very hot-button issue,” said Michelline Dufort, president of the NHLRA. But this year, the association will remain neutral. — BOB SANDERS

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