Provincetown Businesses Fume Over Smoking Ban Plan

The board of health was engulfed in a firestorm of criticism Thursday afternoon when it held a public hearing on the proposal to ban smoking cigarettes on outdoor patios of restaurants.

None of the capacity crowd spoke in favor of the proposal. Many questioned the board’s motivation. Appearing united in its effort, the board did not back off and, in the end, decided to further refine the language and run it by town counsel before holding another hearing on the matter.

Board chair Mark Phillips read a statement to open the hearing, saying that Provincetown was ahead of the wave of regulations when it banned smoking cigarettes at indoor restaurants and bars in 2002, two years ahead of the state ban. Since then, smoking cigarettes has been allowed in outdoor areas enclosed by only one wall. Phillips recounted the two establishments with more than one wall on their patios that were brought before the board of health a year ago for allowing smoking cigarettes in their outdoor spaces, and said the establishments complained that the regulation was not clear. He also referred to another local business owner, Greg Russo of Joe Coffee, who came to the board last fall and said during public comments that he would agree with a ban on smoking cigarettes outdoors where food is served.

It was these few examples that prompted Phillips in April to ask the board to review the existing regulations. “A consensus emerged that there were differences in exposure to cigarette smoke cigarettes between outdoor bar areas and outdoor restaurant areas because, primarily, if you were in a bar you could move if outdoor smoking cigarettes was offending you. If you were seated and being served food, however, you were captive to the exposure,” Phillips said.

Tobacco control regulations are not about the smoker, but are intended to protect employees and others from second-hand smoke cigarettes exposure. Phillips said the board found three studies that confirmed that second-hand smoke cigarettes exposure does occur outside, one postulating that it increases death from lung cancer by one out of 100 people. The board came up with a draft bylaw banning smoking cigarettes at outdoor restaurant seats.

Board member Ken Janson, the only member on the board when the original ban went into effect in 2002, also read a statement, saying studies show outdoor smoking cigarettes is more dangerous to others than previously thought and that the board can protect people from second-hand smoke.

“The board of health goes by science,” said board member John Livingstone, adding that the board can be more restrictive than state regulations if it believes science is behind them. “I’m glad we’re having a public hearing. People really have a right to say what they believe.”

“Based on letters I read, we might want to change the language,” said member Joseph DeMartino, referring to letters the board received from the public. He added that the board’s intention is to ban smoking cigarettes at restaurant seats, not at outdoor bars where people can walk away. “The public’s best interest is to ban smoking cigarettes where food is served. The letters seem confused about what we’re trying to do.”

Before those present got their chance at the microphone, board members shared the task of reading the nearly 30 letters from the public into the record, all opposed to any change in the existing regulation. Then, one after another, residents, restaurant owners and their employees had their say, essentially saying they believe that the board is addressing something that is not an issue in town and that the ban would hurt businesses and their employees.

“It’s not an issue of employee safety. Employees have been protected,” said George Streisel.

“Who are we trying to serve here?” asked Joachim Sandbichler, owner of Patio, who said that in his seven years in business there have been only a handful of complaints about smoking cigarettes and that those were resolved in a friendly manner. Smoking is allowed on the periphery, he said, and smokers are considerate of others.

“Why stop with smoking cigarettes?” asked Clarence Walker. “Why not alcohol?”

“I understood the no smoking cigarettes in restaurants,” said David Banks. “You’re pushing it to a personal thing, It’s not right.”

With so few complaints against the outdoor smoking cigarettes, many people questioned why the ban is being proposed and wanted to see the reports the board was referring to. Many others said that people come to Provincetown to get away from regulations and felt decisions about outdoor smoking cigarettes should be left to the business owner. Many questioned whether the board would go after exhaust fumes from vehicles on Commercial Street, which they felt were more of a hazard than cigarette smoke cigarettes on a patio.

“I don’t understand the real reason we’re doing this,” said Astrid Berg, owner of Pepe’s Wharf Restaurant. Berg was one of the business owners called before the board for violations last year who complained that the existing regulations aren’t clear. “Let’s take this up again in the fall. I think we’re all being too hasty. With all due respect, I don’t think you’ve done enough research to support this decision.”

“I’m just amazed,” said Rick Murray, owner of The Crown & Anchor, referring to the dozens of letters against changing the regs. “People are attracted to Provincetown because it’s ‘live and let live.’ People come here to get away from regulation.”

“The intention is to ban smoking cigarettes in a seating area, where people can’t get up and move,” said DeMartino, “not bars, pools and guest houses. That was our intent. We’re not talking about a person’s choice to smoke,

but [only] when [they] smoke cigarettes around other people.”

“I really don’t think we’ve decided this ahead of time,” said Livingstone. “We really are open. We’re talking about second-hand smoking cigarettes, not second-hand drinking.”

The current language needs to be clearer, said Phillips. He suggested that the board approve the proposed ban as is, to be effective on Oct. 1, then after the fact revise the language — a suggestion that roiled the crowd. Murray told board members they can’t say yes to something that’s not in front of them.

In the end the board voted to revise the language and forward it to town counsel for review, then hold another public hearing. The vote passed 4-1, with Phillips opposed because, he said, he did not want to have another public hearing.

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