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Zack Hutchins
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June 4, 2003

Council supports bill to protect employers' investments in workplace smoking areas

The Business Council is urging lawmakers to modify a sweeping new anti-smoking law because it severely penalizes businesses that have invested heavily in work areas that could accommodate smokers.

In March, lawmakers abruptly passed a new anti-smoking law that prohibits smoking in any workplace that has even a single employee. The law gives no consideration to many factories, restaurants, and businesses that in recent years have invested heavily in creating facilities that could accommodate smokers.

The Council is strongly supporting a bill (A.8601-Abbate) that would permit smoking in such indoor workplace areas where employers have already invested heavily to accommodate employees who smoke.

The new law supersedes less sweeping restrictions passed more than a decade ago.

Under that law, employers were required to provide non-smoking areas in cafeterias and lunch rooms sufficient to meet demand, The Council noted in a legislative memo supporting the bill. Work areas could be set aside for smoking if all employees in that area agreed.

In addition, factories and warehouses could seek a waiver if they could show that smoking there affected employees minimally.

In response to this law, many employers invested thousands of dollars to build rooms for smoking. These rooms often had costly, separate ventilation systems. All of these allowances have been eliminated under the new law.

The Council's memo hailed the bill for seeking "a middle ground between the goals of restricting smoking in the workplace as a health consideration and the rights of employees engaging in a legal activity is easily achievable."

The Council's memo supporting this bill is posted at www.bcnys.org/inside/legmemos/2002/a8601tm.htm.