New Yorkers prepare for tough smoking rules to take effect. Businesses look for ways to comply, as May 7 - `D-Day' for smokers - draws closer

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Restaurants are allotting space for nonsmokers. Enrollment at stop-smoking classes is up. And at least one small company is furiously researching New York State's soon-to-go-into-effect smoking regulations to find out how to interpret them. ``The seventh of May, 1987, will be a great day for fresh air, good health, and common sense in the State of New York,'' says Mayor Edward I. Koch, a longtime supporter of tough nonsmoking measures. The regulations passed by the state's Public Health Council, scheduled to go into effect then, are considered some of the most far-reaching smoking restrictions in the country.

Passed after months of hearings, the rules will affect smoking in indoor public places, restaurants, and offices and work places. State officials are determined that the regulations will go into effect as planned, despite one court challenge upstate and the lack of requested funding from the Legislature for $300,000 to aid implementation of the law.

``It seems like people want the new law, and they want to try to make it work,'' says William F. Agel, a spokesman at the New York State Department of Health.

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Mr. Agel says the department has received numerous inquiries from both local health departments, which will implement the law, and businesses which want to make sure they will be in compliance.

A restaurant owner in Schoharie County has challenged the Public Health Council's authority to enact such rules. The judge in the case has said he will make a decision before May 7. Both sides have said they will appeal if they lose the case.

Mayor Koch says he will vigorously implement the rules even if they are blocked at the state level.

Though the Legislature did not budget the requested money for the regulations, which would have been used to hire seven new employees to assist local county health departments and to direct a public information campaign, the state will still be able to carry out the rules.

Enforcement will be up to county departments, which will act on public complaints and through routine permit inspections, says Agel.

``On regular visits, they will now also check whether there is visible compliance with the law,'' he says.

For New York employers, that means any place where there is a nonsmoker becomes a nonsmoking area. Smoking will only be allowed in segregated, enclosed places.

Offices are involving employees in developing guidelines. At Cable News Network's New York City bureau, employees voted on a plan. Other firms are still weighing the law.

``We've got the regulations, and now we are working to get more statutory information,'' says a law partner who is ``sensitive'' to publicity on the issue. ``If the law applies, we'll sit down with the partnership and look at the interpretation of the rules. We'll come up with a written policy and circulate it among the employees. ... We're far from coming up with anything yet.''

For New York smokers, it means the end of an era.

``What my soul couldn't achieve for years, maybe the state will help me achieve,'' says one ``legendary'' smoker in New York's City Hall. He plans to quit rather than scurry to smoking areas on a regular basis.

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