Inside Track by Katherine Rose
It’s 9pm in a New York bar. "Right, drink up. We’ll go to a hooker bar where we can smoke." Scientists will tell you that hot air rises and this is true of smoky air as well. Smokers are known for their rat-like cunning, applied everywhere apart from with regards to their health and in New York they have clawed above the restrictions to ensure that they can still enjoy a pint and a cigarette without braving the harsh winter or messing up their living rooms. In New York, hooker, or, after the accent had cleared, hookah, bars are smokers’ refuges. In the past four years, 200 to 300 new hookah bars have opened across the United States-mostly in California, but also on the East Coast. According to the New York City Department of Health, tobacco bars must make at least 10% of their income from tobacco sales and their sale of food must be ‘incidental’ to the sale of alcohol to be able to disregard the ban. Karma, an East Village hookah bar, has a sandwich board outside proclaiming ‘You can smoke here’ and several ornate hookah pipes inside. The hearty fug, however, is more Marlboro than Middle Eastern. Diana Mollica, Karma’s weekend manager, said that the hookahs bring in about $2,000 (£1,038) a week and that she had seen a significant jump in trade in the last two years. "We didn’t set out to be a smoking club, to find a loophole, that’s just how it happened," she added. It’s been two years since the smokers of New York found themselves standing around sand-filled buckets in the rain. At first glance, everything seems well in New York’s night-time economy. DBA, a First Avenue bar sporting a range of real ales that would shame most Camra gatherings, is packed at 9pm. The only difference between now and 2003 is that now you can see the other side of the room. However, come back at 11pm and it’s empty. Alex Heining, former London chef turned New York paparazzo and DBA regular, said: "It’s ridiculous. Most drinkers here are smokers, so they come out for a couple of pints and then go home. I’m not going to give up smoking, I know what the risks are but I choose to do it anyway. Bar staff here all smoke, so you’re not helping them either, but it is costing them tips, which is hitting their income." It seems that the city that never sleeps is rapidly becoming the city that has a quick pint before hurrying home via the off-licence. Urban myths are also circulating that bar owners are facing lawsuits from residents living above bars whose air is being polluted by smokers on the pavements below. Smoking was banned in New York in 2003 by mayor Michael Bloomberg and an extra $1.50 tax was levied on a pack of cigarettes. New York City officials said after the first year of the ban about 100,000 smokers quit the habit and seven million fewer cigarettes were smoked. But subsequent New York government claims that hospitality industry revenue and jobs have increased - up 9% and by 10,600 jobs respectively - after the ban have been disputed by bar and pub owners. They claim the real downturn in revenue and employment in pubs and bars has been masked because the ban was introduced post 911, in the midst of a recession. Scott Wexler, of The Empire State Restaurant and Tavern Association said late last year: "The latest statistics from an independent report are damning in terms of the economic effect the ban has had on the hospitality industry in New York. "In one year, New York's bars and taverns and their suppliers have lost 2,600 jobs, $50m in wages and $70m in production - although anti-smoking supporters have accused them of misrepresenting the impact. "A different picture would emerge if today's hospitality figures were compared to those from 2000." In Ireland research undertaken by New York research company, International Communications Research, on behalf of The Vintners Federation of Ireland, Irish Hotels Federation and the Licensed Vintners Association, found that, on average, establishments reported a 17% decline in the number of waiters and a 11% decline in bartenders since the smoking ban went into effect. One-third of all establishments reported a decline in total service-related employees since the introduction of the smoking ban. Over two-thirds of these businesses attributed their decline to the smoking ban, with just under one-third attributing their decline to a poor economy. Earlier this month The Empire State Restaurant and Tavern Association saw its attempts to clarify the ban’s waiver provision thrown out by a federal judge. The ban allowed waivers for bars, restaurants and other establishments that could show a decline in business of at least 15% from pre-ban revenues attributable to the smoking ban. The association said that waiver criteria were too vague and interpreted differently in different counties, with come counties refusing to grant any waivers at all, saying that is their interpretation of the law. Charles Quackenbush, an attorney for the state, said that if the association had prevailed, the law could have been struck down. The only solace currently available to New York bar owners is the news that smoking may soon be banned in neighbouring New Jersey, which had seen itself become a popular destination for the city’s smokers. In the UK speculation is mixed. Research from BDO Stoy Hayward suggested the hospitality industry would pay the price of a ban. It said that 32,000 jobs would go as customer numbers fall by 7.6%, leading to a drop in profits of more than £230m. Research by KPMG also bears out what New Yorkers have noticed. "Pub companies may not be the only ones to benefit. Of those people who believe they would spend less time in pubs due to a ban, just over half of them believe that their alcoholic consumption levels would not fall as a result. Assuming they’re not simply spending the same amount of money in a pub - just in shorter visits - then their custom will be transferred to off-licenses and supermarkets. The purchases may subsequently be consumed at home but at least these people’s spending power is not being lost to the drinks industry as a whole," said Matthews. Campaigners in the UK would have you believe that a smoking ban is good for all and that even smokers themselves would grudgingly welcome the chance to give up. However, the simple idea that banning something makes it go away just isn’t true. It merely vanishes from the public eye to reappear in private. There are correlations to be seen with the binge-drinking debate, where politicians hope to stop excessive drinking on the high street with an end to cheap deals. Without a change to society’s attitude towards drinking, all they will do is push it into the off-licences. The drinks industry is finding that more and more of its time is being spent trying to see things as ‘opportunities’. Binge drinking is an opportunity to revolutionise the industry making pubs more attractive to the community as a whole, rather than just hardened drinkers. The now inevitable smoking ban will have to be treated similarly, marketing smoke-free environments while keeping smokers away from attractive supermarket discount deals.