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Health commission may alter smoking ban

The Princeton Regional Health Commission last night approved for public consideration an amendment that would exempt Prospect Ave. eating clubs and other private social clubs from the proposed ordinance banning smoking.

Regional health officer Bill Hinshillwood said the amendment was drafted partly in response to written objections to the original ordinance submitted by several eating clubs. Though he acknowledged late last week that several eating clubs retained counsel to fight the ordinance, he did not indicate if this action played a role in spurring the amendment.


Hinshillwood stressed that the inclusion of the amendment does not represent a final decision on whether the ordinance will apply to eating clubs, but rather officially introduces the subject for discussion.

"We have only agreed to submit the revised version as the topic of discussion at the public hearing on May 16. The amendments may still be changed or removed," he said.

In addition to the amendment, the smoking ordinance faces several procedural hurdles before it can be passed into law. After the May 16 hearing, the commission will consider whether to approve the revised ordinance in its current form or change it again. New Jersey state law may require a reintroduction of the ordinance if further alterations are made.

Because the commission meets only once a month, no immediate end to the process is in sight, Hinshillwood said. "In the earliest scenario, the ordinance could take effect in mid-June," he said.

During discussion of the amendment at last night's meeting, commission member Laura Kahn introduced into the record a letter from her husband, University astrophysics professor David Spergel '82, objecting to exemptions for the eating clubs.

In an interview after the discussion, Spergel cited eating clubs as an especially dangerous smoking environment. "If there's any place where there's peer pressure and someone will pick up smoking, it's at an eating club," he said. "From a public health standpoint, secondhand smoke is just as harmful at eating clubs as anywhere else, so why exempt them?"


Spergel also addressed the issue of whether eating clubs should be considered public or private organizations. "When I was an undergraduate, the courts determined with the Sally Frank ['80] case that the eating clubs were public," he said.

"Eating clubs are very much part of Princeton University," Spergel added. "The idea that the clubs are private organizations is just a legal fiction."

Kahn characterized public smoking as an infringement on the rights of others. "People have the right to smoke if they want, but they shouldn't be allowed to subject other people to carcinogens," she said.

In response to these objections, the commission resolved to investigate the legal status of the eating clubs before its next meeting.

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