A bill proposed in the state Senate could affect every restaurant and bar in New Jersey.
On Feb. 27, Sen. Raymond J. Lesniak (D-Union) and Sen. Gerald Cardinale (R-Bergen) proposed a bill (S-2339) that would prohibit smoking in all restaurants and bars in New Jersey.
Although it was introduced on Feb. 27, the bill has not yet been discussed or voted on by a committee. The bill is expected to be reviewed by the Senate’s Health, Human Services and Senior Citizen Committee.
"The bill (S-2339) probably won’t get any attention until November," Cardinale said, adding that he thinks it will not be ignored.
"I believe some form [of the bill] will be passed within a year or two," he said.
Cardinale said many compromises will have to be made, and noted that the bill as it was originally written may not be what is eventually signed into law.
He described a recent experience he had in which he went to a restaurant and asked for a table in a non-smoking section. He was told he would have to wait 20 minutes for a table. The senator said he was told that if he was willing to sit in the smoking section, he could be seated immediately.
Cardinale said the disproportionate sizes of the smoking and nonsmoking sections in a restaurant have become a problem.
The bill’s main statement consists of many smaller rules. The owner of the restaurant or bar would be required to post a sign indicating the no-smoking law. The bill would not apply to any restaurant or bar when it is being privately used for a social affair, as long as the smoking area is separated from other patrons currently being served by a floor-to-ceiling wall.
If a person was smoking in a restaurant or bar, and was told to obey the law by a municipal or county health official, or other public employee, but resisted, he would be subject to a fine of up to $25. Under the terms of the bill, the owner of the establishment would only be responsible for putting up the "no smoking" sign, but not for enforcing the provisions.
The bill also states that no owner or manager of a restaurant or bar would be subject to any legal action, except for limited cases involving employees.
As for the potential smoking ban in bars and restaurants, Clarksburg Inn owner Roger Watkins is pragmatic.
"We have to deal with whatever situation the law gives us," he said, "and hope patrons will still utilize services. There’s not much I can do about it."
According to Watkins, the nonsmoking section of his restaurant accounts for the largest number of entrees served. While there is more food in the nonsmoking area, the bar area, in his estimate, is comprised of about 60 percent nonsmoking customers and 40 percent smokers.
The Clarksburg Inn also has a separate building that features bands and other performances. It is considered a club, and will be permitted to have a smoking section, he said.
Joe Mosco, the owner of many restaurants in New Jersey, including Nonna’s family-style Italian restaurant, Marlboro, does not think the proposed law would affect his restaurants too much, but does have his opinion on the bill.
"I feel like, financially, there will be minimal impact," said Mosco. "Any restaurant with the right arrangements [for smoking and nonsmoking sections] has every right to have smoking. The government is wrong to mandate this."
Regarding bars, Mosco said people smoke in conjunction with drinking. For that reason Mosco said he rarely spends time at the bar.
"Other people can make the same choice," he said.
On the other hand, restaurateur Ted Petrov runs a smoke-free restaurant, Mom’s Golden Griddle, Route 9, Manalapan, and thinks the bill is a good idea.
"I run a smoke-free restaurant, and it works out great. Smoking shouldn’t be allowed in any restaurant," Petrov said. Petrov also owns Perkins Family Restaurant, Freehold Township, which has both smoking and nonsmoking sections.
John Byrne is the president of the New Jersey Restaurant Association (NJRA). He said the position of most of the members of the association is for the complete ban of smoking in New Jersey facilities.
"I think most of us would agree smoking is a hazard," he said.
Although Byrne is in favor of the banning of smoking in New Jersey, he said the bill in the Senate now does not portray what the NJRA thinks should be done.
"I think it [the bill] has to exhibit fairness. It doesn’t," he said.
First of all, Byrne explained, if smoking is banned in New Jersey, it has to be banned everywhere in the state, not just in bars and restaurants, as the bill currently reads. The bill excludes places such as casinos and country clubs.
"If you exclude these people, does that mean that they are any less important than any other people?" Byrne asked.
Byrne stated that it is for these reasons, and many others, that the NJRA will not support the bill in its current form.
Staff writer Jane Meggitt contributed to this story