NEW YORK CITY - The Amusement and Music Owners Association of New York is intensifying one of the industry's most effective grassroots political and public relations campaigns that has crystallized around New York State's and the Big Apple's smoking ban in bars and taverns. Through relentless pressure on state and city politicians, combined with countless media appearances speaking out against the ban's negative economic impact, AMOA-NY's action is beginning to gain traction.
At stake, according to association officials, is 20% to 40% of equipment income for Empire State operators, the survival of many of their tavern locations and the state's nightlife commerce. In addition, the high profile of New York City and the State of New York are influencing other states, counties and cities to adopt similar all-out bans.
At the state level, a senator has introduced a bill "to amend the public health law, in relation to permitting smoking in certain areas." Under the bill proposed by Sen. Raymond Meier (R-Western, Oneida County) bars that install air filtration systems could be exempt from the smoking ban. Filtration systems would be required to clean the air of 99% of the contaminants from cigarette smoke.
Assemblywoman RoAnn Destito (D-Rome) is reportedly considering a similar measure in the Assembly. The action would be significant because the rollback bill would have sponsors from the majority part in each house. Other state assembly and senate officials from both parties are saying the latest air-filter technology deserves study.
In late March, AMOA-NY met with State Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno (R-Brunswick), who supported the ban's enactment, to discuss the new bill that would provide exemptions for bars. The association reported that Bruno listened to its position, but did not pledge support. However, upstate senators are under tremendous pressure because of the ban and the top republican has good reason to throw his support behind the filtration initiative, AMOA-NY told VT.
But if the air-filtration exemption were permitted, the citywide ban would ride roughshod over the state's rollback. AMOA-NY is fighting two battles. The state bill trumps the city bill, and vice versa.
On April 1, the association's board of directors met with New York City Councilman Tony Avella (D-Bayside) who affirmed his support for AMOA-NY's position, offering to introduce a bill that would provide exemptions for the city's taverns and nightclubs. Air filtration would be a requirement in Avella's suggested bill.
Avella, who voted for the smoking ban introduced by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, said his support was based on two of the mayor's assertions: the city's nightlife business would not be harmed and there would be no subsequent quality-of-life issues. "These claims proved to be false," said Avella, who recognizes New York's bar business is down significantly. Additionally, smokers who leave bars to indulge are creating congestion on already crowded city streets and complaints of noise and smoke from residents who live in apartments above bars.
As VT goes to press, Avella is planning a demonstration in front of the New York City Health Department to lash out at the Bloomberg administration, which the councilman and AMOA-NY believe passed the city ban, enacted a year ago, using fake science. Thomas R. Frieden, commissioner of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, has stated that 1,000 bartenders and waitresses die each year of secondhand smoke. Avella, joined by bar owners and coin machine operators, will invite Frieden to produce empirical evidence and scientific documentation to support this claim. AMOA-NY's repeated requests for such data have been ignored.
Avella, who is the only city official who voted for the ban and came out against it, said that AMOA-NY's media attention is crucial for a rollback of the ban. "Most people think it's a done deal," he said, "but it never is in politics. It may seem like most people support the ban because of the way the question is presented. But if rephrased accurately, you'll find that most people don't."
Spearheading the fight is AMOA-NY's new leadership: Frank Calland of E&S Music Corp. (Holbrook), president; Joe Bossolina of McGee Amusements (Ridgefield, NJ), vice-president; Ken Goldberg of PLK Vending (Woodside), secretary; and Anthony Elefante of Ralph Elefante Music (Brooklyn), treasurer.
The state association's public relations movement has resulted in numerous appearances on local and national TV news programming and newspapers. Most recently, Goldberg was interviewed about the ban's negative impact by Fox News' Neil Cavuto, anchor of the popular cable news show, "Your World With Cavuto." When questioned about Bloomberg's figures, which showed bar employment up since the ban and business in restaurants and bars rising 8%, the New York operator replied: "This administration'it's no secret that their practices are deceptive. I don't know where they are getting these numbers. What's worse is these numbers are being used to push the ban down the throats of other cities and states."
Statewide, according to Calland, the smoking ban that went into effect last year on July 24 is killing the coin-operated amusement and music industry throughout New York. "While a majority of bars in the state are reporting falloffs of 20% to 30% in business, there are some bars that have witnessed a staggering 50% drop," the AMOA-NY president reported. "These declines are being reflected in our cashbox receipts."
In his editorial in AMOA-NY's recent Bottom Line newsletter, Calland wrote: "The manufacturing community cannot ignore the detrimental consequences of the smoking ban on their bottom line. Our losses are their losses. There are several new products and technologies that offer promising opportunities for street locations. However, the decreasing volume in these locations created by smoking bans will greatly prohibit investment in new products.
"It would be shortsighted on the part of manufacturers to sit back passively and assume they're safe," the editorial continued. "Industry members attending this year's Amusement Showcase International, where we believe some very strong products will be introduced, may ask: How can operators afford to invest in their routes if collections are down 20%, 30% or more?"
A few forward-thinking manufacturers are indeed aware of this, Calland told VT. "We have been helped by some manufacturers, but we are looking for more to join us," he said.
Calland also expressed some frustration with the national Amusement and Music Operators Association, which denied late last year the New York association's request for financial support on the grounds that "the desired outcome cannot be achieved, or where the likelihood for success is considered remote." "While we're disappointed with the national AMOA's decision not to support us, we're confident we'll succeed," Calland told VT. "We believe the work we are doing will not only protect the livelihood of operators in New York, but will also set an important precedent for operators throughout the country. And every day we're gaining more support."