Wie denkt dat het algemene rookverbod in New York een daverend succes is, moet maar eens in de wijk Astoria gaan kijken. Er is geen wijk in de Big Apple die het rookverbod zó aan zijn laars lapt dan deze, waar vele Oost-en Zuid-Europeanen wonen.
“I don’t like the American government; I just like America”, zegt de Griekse drager van een rijkelijk van adelaar en Stars en Stripes voorziene stropdas.
In the neighborhood’s European-style cafes, owners routinely defy the ban. They say they’re forced to allow smoking in order to retain staple clients, many of them middle-aged and older men from Eastern Europe, where both smoking and defiance are more ingrained in the culture.
“I think it’s worth it to pay the ticket than to lose the customers,” said Paul Gregory, manager of Cafe Byzantio Bar. “This law is bad, very bad.”
Many cafe owners and managers said they enforced the ban initially. But that lasted just a few months, as customers got upset or didn’t come at all, reducing between 20 and 35 percent of total revenue, they said.
At Cafe Athens, Albanian-born Dionysus Mara and his three friends said they turned to their backyards for a place to gather in the months immediately following implementation of the new ordinance.
“No smoking, no coming,” Mara said.
Charlie Tzinlikis, general manager of Zodiak Cafe, a rare establishment that actually enforces the smoking ban, said he believes the Eastern European roots of many local smoker patrons is the reason Astoria is resisting compliance with the law.
“Immigrants, especially Europeans, they want to go against the law,” said Tzinlikis, Greek himself. “In Europe there are no laws to say ‘Don’t do this’ for your personal life,” he said.
Owners of establishments in Astoria, like Cafe Byzantio, say they’ve been fined far more than three times as a result of allowing Loutos and other patrons to smoke.