Walk into the music club Positively Fourth Street in Troy on some nights and you'll find several people smoking. Owner and musician Artie Fredette will not admit to allowing smoking, but he will loudly express his disdain for the law. A few years ago, his band, the Lawn Sausages, released a single called "Smoke This, Joe Bruno," in reference to the Senate majority leader.Fredette has a perfectly reasonable suggestion:
"We are losing so many rights every day," said Fredette, who has owned a number of bars in Troy over the years. "Now you can't use trans fats in New York City and they are talking about making kids wear helmets while sledding. I'm not selling holy water here."
Unlike New York City, where complacency is too-often the rule, upstaters are less enthusiastic to see their liberty extinguished:
Fredette believes bar owners who want to allow smoking in their establishments should be able to pay for an additional license.
"That way, the state will make all the money they need to make," he said. "And when you hire someone, you should have them sign a waiver to say they know they are working in a smoking environment."
Champagne, the Rensselaer environmental health director, said it is often frustrating to investigate neighborhood bars, because employees and clientele are often hostile when it's suggested they put down their smokes. He said one of his inspectors was threatened at a bar this winter and had to call police.No matter. Whether bar workers like it or not, health cops will "protect" them.
"All the people in there smoke," said Champagne. "At that point, who are we protecting in terms of public health?"
Since the smoking ban went into effect in 2003, "20 percent of our members went out of business," said Scott Wexler, executive director of the Empire State Restaurant and Tavern Association.Workers will "protected" -- even if it comes at the cost of their livelihoods. Such is the moralism of today's health crusade.
"There is no question that it had a short-term severe economic impact on the industry," he said. "The independent operators will adjust, but there are victims of this. Not only the owners, but the employees that lost their jobs."