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Local commission approves public smoking ban

A ban on smoking in nearly all public buildings in Princeton Borough and Township — including the Prospect Avenue eating clubs — will be in effect by the time students return to campus in September.

The Princeton Regional Health Commission approved the ban at its June 1 meeting, despite a chorus of criticism during the last several months from eating club officers, local restaurant owners and organizations such as the New Jersey Licensed Beverage Association.

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The ordinance prohibits smoking in restaurants, bars, cabarets, taverns, work places, restrooms, lobbies, reception areas, hallways, elevators and all other public enclosed areas with the exception of retail tobacco stores.

Eating clubs

Following its introduction in February, the ordinance sparked several months of confusion and controversy on the issue of whether it would apply to the eating clubs — a question that was resolved on May 16, when the commission voted to reject an amendment that would have exempted private social clubs from the ban.

"It's an amendment that intends to clarify between private and public facilities," regional health officer Bill Hinshillwood said in explaining the amendment prior to its rejection. "It's not just the eating clubs, but other private clubs as well."

The commission was prompted to consider the ultimately-doomed amendment when several eating clubs submitted written objections to the ordinance.

At the time, Terrace Club president Nili Safavi '01 said she believed the ordinance should acknowledge the private status of the eating clubs.

"Terrace Club, like other eating clubs, is not like a restaurant or bar because we have members," Safavi explained. "It's a place where members come to hang out and have fun. If we were to be labeled as public, that could bring great liabilities."

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Still, some local business owners and opponents of the ban raised questions about the validity of exempting private establishments while including public bars and restaurants. They argued that for the ban to be effective, it would have to protect all employees from secondhand smoke, regardless of where they are employed.

Richard Carnevale, owner of The Annex restaurant, said he believes there is no valid reason to exempt the eating clubs and not exempt other establishments, such as his restaurant.

"Private establishments are under the same obligation as public establishments as far as what the commission is trying to achieve," Carnevale said. "They're trying to protect the employees, and eating clubs have employees, just like public bars and restaurants, so they would fall under the same criteria."

Several organizations have threatened to challenge the ordinance in court.

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