STATEMENT of MICHAEL STERNBERG
for the NATIONAL RESTAURANT ASSOCIATION
at the OVERSIGHT HEARING ON ENVIRONMENTAL TOBACCO SMOKE
before the SENATE COMMITTEE ON ENVIRONMENT AND PUBLIC WORKS
April 1, 1998

Good afternoon, Mr. Chairman and members of the committee. My name is Michael Sternberg and I am the owner and operator of Sam & Harry's restaurants in downtown Washington DC, and at Tyson's Corner, as well as the Music City Roadhouse in Georgetown. I am also a board member of the National Restaurant Association and it is on their behalf that I appear here today. I would like to thank you for allowing me to testify on the subject of environmental tobacco smoke.

Smoking is an emotional issue, but I hope that we can set aside emotions today and look at this issue from a logical standpoint. Simply put, I believe that restaurateurs like myself, and not the government, should be making the decisions that impact our businesses.

If a restaurateur attracts customers to his or her restaurant that don't smoke and don't like to be around tobacco smoke, then it makes sense that the restaurateur would ban smoking from all or part of his or her establishment. But if a restaurateur has a clientele whose majority consists of smokers, then it would be foolish for him or her to ban smoking entirely from the establishment.

You see, by their very nature, restaurants are in the business of offering choices to their patrons, and every effort is made to ensure that the dining experience is enjoyable. To that end, many members of the National Restaurant Association have elected to ban smoking in their establishments while most others have provided separate sections for smokers and non-smokers. It's a choice, and it's one that should be left to the individual restaurateur.

While reducing smoking is arguably a laudable goal, the difficulty when it comes to the restaurant industry is where to draw the line. One suggested approach has been to ban smoking in "fast food" restaurants. But can those places be defined in a way that does not include barbecue restaurants and others who happen to serve customers by way of a take-out window? Another approach has been to ban smoking in restaurants but to exclude areas that serve as bars--an approach that could lead to more liquor licenses being demanded. Still another approach being considered would ban smoking except in the tiniest bars_essentially allowing smoking in only the most restricted of spaces. Still another approach has been for Congress to force the Occupational Safety and Health

Administration (OSHA) to make the decision by promulgating its final rule on indoor air quality. Defining the industry and where to draw the line is difficult. Again, we say leave it to the restaurant owner and his or her customers to decide.

A final point that I wish to make is to cite the impact of smoking on travel and tourism. Restaurants account for the single largest industry among the tourism industries. We represent nearly 800,000 eating-and-drinking establishments and foodservice institutions. Of these establishments, approximately 400,000 are restaurants, and roughly 250,000 of those are single, independent operators. You could say that we are a large industry dominated by small businesses. We would not survive and thrive if it were not for the business that is generated by tourism. Indeed, I operate my restaurants in a city that is well recognized for tourism.

Last year the United States hosted a record 24.2 million overseas visitors, a seven~ percent increase over 1996, according to the U.S. Commerce department. Tourism is one of the nation's largest exports, contributing nearly $79 billion to the U.S. economy. At a time when we are asking tourists to come to the United States to spend their hard-earned vacation money or to come here as business travelers, we are discouraging them with our smoking policies. This is inconsistent and we believe it will cause a loss of jobs for tourism industries like the restaurant industry and a loss of tourism dollars for the nation's economy.

We believe, Mr. Chairman, that the market is working as it should to determine individual restaurant smoking policies. No blanket government directive is needed. This is particularly true since it is individual citizens who decide which restaurants to frequent. They are free to choose restaurants that reflect their own tastes with regard to food, ambiance, convenience, as well as smoking policy.

Thank you again for giving me the opportunity to appear before you today.