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N.H. prohibits smoking in bars and restaurants

CONCORD, N.H. -- Governor John Lynch signed a law yesterday banning smoking in New Hampshire's bars and restaurants.

"The science is clear -- secondhand smoke poses a dangerous health risk, and that is why this new law is so important," Lynch said.

More than a dozen states and hundreds of cities and counties around the country ban smoking in restaurants, bars, or both. New Hampshire was the only state in New England that did neither.

The law will take effect in 90 days.

Supporters said the ban was needed to protect workers and customers from the health risks of secondhand smoke.

"Smoking is banned in almost every other workplace in New Hampshire," Lynch said. "We should not continue to subject our hard-working citizens in the restaurant industry to the harmful dangers of secondhand smoke."

Opponents argued for education instead. They said restaurant and bar owners should decide when or whether to ban smoking, not the state.

They tried unsuccessfully to carve out an exception for "fully enclosed" smoking rooms in some businesses. The rooms would have been required to have separate ventilation systems, and employees would have been able to choose whether to enter them.

But ban supporters said allowing smoking rooms would make it difficult for workers to say no to their employers. They said the rooms would be bad for smokers and their children and for anyone seated near their doors.

Social, fraternal, and religious organizations and their private events are exempt from the ban. Smoking is permitted at the organizations' public events, such as bingo nights, only if smoking areas can be segregated effectively.

New Hampshire already bans smoking in public buildings, offices, and workplaces, except in smoking areas that are effectively segregated. Smoking also is banned in schools, child-care agencies, hospitals, grocery stores, elevators, buses, and tramways.