Bill banning smoking at small businesses passes Senate, heads to House

The Senate approved a bill that would extend the current ban on smoking in the workplace to small businesses that are now exempt.

The state passed landmark legislation in 2003 banning smoking in restaurants, bars and businesses, except in a designated ventilated smoking room, but exempted businesses with five or fewer employees. Sen. Jonathan A. Harris, D-West Hartford, co-chair of the Public Health Committee, said the exemption leaves 75,000 workers without protection.

“The reality is that we often regulate dangerous activity,” said Sen. Jonathan A. Harris, D-West Hartford, co-chair of the Public Health Committee. “Employees can go outside to smoke… This could cost nothing.”

But critics said the bill as written would bar a self-employed person with no employees from smoking in his or her own business, unless the business is located in the owner’s home. They said extending the regulation would impose a burden on small businesses and is not the proper role of the state.

“What’s next?” said Sen. Robert J. Kane, a small business owner himself of KarTele Cellular Phones in Waterbury. “This is not the role of government to decide these things.”

But Harris disagrees, saying the state spends $430 million each year in health care costs for second-hand smoking related coverage.

The bill was approved along party lines 24-11, with all Republicans except Sen. Dan Debicella, R-Shelton, voting against the measure. It now heads to the state House.