Removal of cabaret exemptions unlikely

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(Host) Efforts to do away with an exemption that allows smoking in Vermont’s bars appear to have failed in this legislative session. Advocates say they plan to push for the ban again next session. Meanwhile they hope a smoking ban in some Vermont communities will prove that the policy can work.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports.

(Zind) Under the 1993 Clean Indoor Air Act, bars are the last bastions of public smoking in Vermont. An establishment qualifies for the so-called Cabaret Exemption if it takes in more money from alcohol and entertainment that it does from food.

Danville Representative Steven Larrabee heads the House committee that’s considering a bill to remove the Cabaret exemption. Larrabbee says the legislation won’t be getting out of the committee. He says there’s concern the ban would hurt bars.

(Larrabee) “Oh, absolutely. They’re concerned that people that can smoke at their establishment won’t come back. Unfortunately people are hooked on this bad habit and they need a place to go.”

(Zind) Bartender Frank Flemming says he used to feel the same way. He worried that he’d earn less money at a smoke free bar. He changed his mind after he researched the health effects of second hand smoke.

(Flemming) “What the Cabaret Exemption has done is divide the Vermont labor force into two categories. Those whose health is worth protecting and those whose health is not worth protecting.”

(Zind) Flemming has been lobbying legislators to do away with the Cabaret Exemption. Representative Larrabee doesn’t dispute the health effects of breathing second hand smoke.

(Larrabee) “That’s unfortunate but I guess people take a job knowing the risk and that’s something that person can choose or choose not to do.”

(Zind) Flemming has a ready response.

(Flemming) “If this happened in a school an office, the Vermont State House, if they detected even a fraction of the toxins in second hand smoke and carcinogens, the place would be evacuated.”

(Zind) A bill to do away with the Cabaret exemptions also bottled up in a Senate committee. Committee member Ginny Lyons says she hopes to renew the effort to pass legislation next session.

Lyons also serves on Williston Select Board. She says it’s likely Williston will follow the lead of Burlington and South Burlington which plan to institute a town-wide ban on smoking in bars.

(Lyons) “I will be supporting a resolution to go ahead and eliminate Cabaret Licenses in the town.”

(Zind) Supporters of the ban hope that once the smoking prohibition is instituted in some communities, it will prove that a ban on lighting up in bars can work statewide.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.

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