Smokers stand up for their rights - World - News - The Independent

Smokers stand up for their rights

USA/ diners forgo seats for a cigarette

OPEN the menu at Drake's Drum restaurant in New York City and the first page contains not a list of hors-d'oeuvres but a manifesto for revolution.

Under a call to arms - "We're mad as hell and we're not going to take it any more" - the message reads: "As the rest of New York City's restaurants have abolished smoking sections, we're providing two of them: smoking and chain smoking . . . feel free to smoke before, during and after dinner."

New York's restaurants have become the latest battleground in America's cigarette wars. On 10 April the country's mostindividualistic city succumbed to national trends and introduced a law forbidding smoking in restaurants seating more than 35 people. The Smoke-Free Air Act, which rests on US government statistics showing that passive smoking kills 3,000 Americans a year, affects 11,000 of New York's 15,000 eating establishments.

Restaurant owners are outraged. Citing evidence from California, where restaurant sales purportedly dropped off dramatically after a similar ban was introduced two years ago, many say the new legislation threatens to put them out of business. Surveys by the National Smokers Alliance and the New York Tavern and Restaurant Association found that 51 per cent of restaurateurs thought the ban was bad for business, and 41 per cent reported a fall in takings. At a rowdy meeting of 300 restaurant owners last week a decision was taken to fight back, beginning with a demonstration this Tuesday outside the Health Commissioner's office.

Jimmy Duke, the owner of Drake's Drum on Manhattan's Upper East Side, has a more subversive plan of action. "The law as it is written states that if you sit fewer than 35 people all bets are off," he said. "We've always sat about 75. So now we've removed more than 50 per cent of the chairs, down to 34, and we've created an environment where you can smoke anywhere."

Mr Duke, a pugnacious, rugby-playing 52-year-old, was born in Liverpool. He went to New York in 1964 to complete a graduate degree in science, stayed on, and opened his restaurant in 1968. Drake's Drum, recently renamed Drake's Drum - the Smoke Inn, is a down-to-earth pub-restaurant on Second Avenue with a noisy, unpretentious clientele who drink beer, eat shepherd's pie and watch basketball and ice hockey on two giant video screens. A Union Jack and a Stars and Stripes hang from the ceiling. Pulp Fiction and American Gigolo posters adorn the walls. A sign in the lavatory reads: "Nine out of ten doctors discourage smoking . . . the tenth is cool!"

Mr Duke is driven only in part by the fear that he will lose revenue. He suspects, for example, that once word gets around the world, New York's tourism industry will be severely hit. But, being a non-smoker himself, he is driven also by a disinterested sense of mission. "I know I'm skating on pretty thin ice. I know the Board of Health people could come around at any moment, fine me, close me down. But this is the point. When I came over 30 years ago I found England very restrictive. That's why I decided to live here. New York was big, expansive, the capital of the world. I don't know what's happened to this country in the last 25 years but today Liverpool and London are a lot less restrictive than New York. And I've reached the point where I've had enough. I'm fed up. It's ludicrous. It's time to make a stand." Particularly ludicrous, in Mr Duke's view, is a section of the new law that places a limit of 25 per cent on the number of people allowed to smoke at outdoor tables. "Imagine! You've got six people out of 25 smoking at your tables on the pavement and a seventh guy lights up. What do I say? 'Please stand up because it's legal to smoke out on the streets if you're standing up but not if you're sitting down?' Or do I say, 'Please could you wait till that guy over there has finished his cigarette and then you can light yours'? I mean, I'm not a policeman. And if no one's paying me to be a policeman I'm not going to be one. If passive smoking really does kill 3,000 people a year, which I think is a very dubious statistic, then make smoking illegal. Fine. But it's not against the law to smoke yet and as far as I'm concerned at my pub you can drink and smoke, eat and smoke, smoke and smoke. I refuse to bow down to these crazy zealots."

The prime mover behind the Smoke-Free Air Act is Joseph Cherner, "policy chair", in his own words, of the Coalition for a Smoke-Free City, a body comprising 60 organisations united in their resolve to stamp out smoking in public places.

Mr Cherner said he was not satisfied with the provisions of the new law. Earnest and quivering with indignation, he said he would not rest until smoking was banned in all restaurants and bars. "People can smoke in their homes, in their cars, on the streets. But not anywhere else. No one should be forced to breathe smoke if they don't want to. No one."

Mr Cherner, who is 37, gave up a lucrative career on Wall Street in 1988 to dedicate himself full time to the anti-smoking crusade. "I'm tired. I sleep four hours a day. I would like to rest and sit back and watch the world go by. But I can't. I cannot watch the evil of the tobacco cartel and just sit by and do nothing. It offends me. It's so evil! It's so obviously wrong!" Few are more evil, in Mr Cherner's eyes, than Tom Humber, the president of the National Smokers Alliance, an organisation that was founded in August 1993 and already claims a membership of 3 million. "I don't think any grass-roots organisation in this country has ever registered such phenomenal growth," he said. "What it shows is that smokers were docile but now they are on the march. A principle's at stake here. One premise of this country was the pursuit of happiness, but we've become a dour society, a society of nannies. 'If you don't drink and don't smoke you'll live in perfect health,' the zealots say. Come on! This society has become the most risk-averse society on the face of the earth. American people are obsessed with the denial of death. It's getting in the way of our basic rights as individuals. Look at the restaurant owners: they should be free to open non-smoking restaurants if they want to, or all-smoking, or whatever they want. It should be their choice. It's a question of individual rights."

Brian McNally owns 44, one of New York's swankiest restaurants, a severely elegant art-deco establishment which serves sashimi salads and goat's cheese profiteroles. A Londoner who has lived in New York for 18 years and has become one of the city's most celebrated restaurateurs, Mr McNally - a non-smoker - agrees with Mr Humber that more than profit is at stake.

"Bloody ridiculous, isn't it? This law, it's a victory of the pious, a victory of the sanctimonious. I mean, who'd want to eat in a doctor's waiting room, for Christ's sake? The system worked perfectly well before, with smoking and no-smoking sections. Just great. This is a crusade of people who want to interfere in other people's business. Where are these people going to stop? How risk-free do you want your life to be? I mean, life by definition is risky.

"What do you come to New York for? To dodge smoke? I get up in the morning, look out of my window on Fifth Avenue and what I see is shimmering filth! A great yellow cloud and we're worried about second-hand smoking! With all the muggers around, all the crack they sell on every street corner, just leaving your home is a death-defying experience. Nobody comes to New York for the quality of life. You come here because you're ambitious, or cut-throat or want some edge in your life. To these sanctimonious meddlers, I say, get a life! Look at the smokers - look, for God's sake - they're having more fun than the rest of us!"

News
Residents of James Turner Street such as White Dee will have a chance to share their experiences of benefits on a Channel 4 spin-off show
peopleBenefits Street star says mixed-race children were subjected to trolling
Sport
Angel Di Maria
Football
News
Piers Morgan tells Scots they might not have to suffer living on the same island as him if they vote ‘No’ to Scottish Independence
news
Life and Style
techIndian model comes with cricket scores baked in
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
i100Exclusive interview with the British analyst who helped expose Bashar al-Assad's use of Sarin gas
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game
film
Arts and Entertainment
Rob James-Collier, who plays under-butler Thomas Barrow, admitted to suffering sleepless nights over the Series 5 script
tv'Thomas comes right up to the abyss', says the actor
News
newsIn short, yes
Extras
indybest
News
Denny Miller in 1959 remake of Tarzan, the Ape Man
people
Sport
BoxingVideo: The incident happened in the very same ring as Tyson-Holyfield II 17 years ago
Life and Style
Jourdan Dunn gave TopShop’s Unique show some added glamour at London Fashion Week
fashion week
News
Groundskeeper Willie has backed Scottish independence in a new video
people
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor poses the question of whether we are every truly alone in 'Listen'
tvReview: Possibly Steven Moffat's most terrifying episode to date
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: Job opportunity for a nursery nurse...

McAfee Security Engineer

£42000 - £48000 per annum + Site allowance: Ashdown Group: McAfee EPO Speciali...

English Teacher

£22800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: Experience...

Higher Level Teaching Assistants in Bradford and West Leeds

£65 - £75 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: We are currently seeking Higher L...

Day In a Page

These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week
The fall of Rome? Cash-strapped Italy accused of selling its soul to the highest bidder

The fall of Rome?

Italy's fears that corporate-sponsored restoration projects will lead to the Disneyfication of its cultural heritage
Glasgow girl made good

Glasgow girl made good

Kelly Macdonald was a waitress when she made Trainspotting. Now she’s taking Manhattan
Sequins ahoy as Strictly Come Dancing takes to the floor once more

Sequins ahoy as Strictly takes to the floor once more

Judy Murray, Frankie Bridge and co paired with dance partners
Wearable trainers and other sporty looks

Wearable trainers and other sporty looks

Alexander Wang pumps it up at New York Fashion Week
The landscape of my imagination

The landscape of my imagination

Author Kate Mosse on the place that taught her to tell stories