It happens like clockwork: I write a random, Westport-related post. Someone responds with an even more interesting back story.
Within minutes of this morning’s look back at our town’s former smoking culture, alert “06880” reader Adam Stolpen clued me in to a May 16, 1987 New York Times piece.
Headlined “A Tough Smoking Plan is Debated in Westport,” it said a proposed law would require restaurant owners to “erect walls, set up partitions or install separate ventilating systems to segregate smokers from non-smokers.” It would also limit cigarette smoking in the workplace to designated areas.
The RTM would vote on “one of the nation’s most restrictive smoking laws, rivaling ones recently approved in Beverly Hills, Calif., and Aspen, Colo.”
The Times quoted Stolpen, an RTM member and principal author of the proposal: ”Westport is a relatively enlightened community. People come to Westport for variety of reasons. One is clean air. (People) are aware of what’s healthy and not healthy, and studious of what is in their best interest.”
Calling Westport — with about 100 restaurants — a “dining center of Fairfield County and the state,” the Times noted that many restaurateurs opposed the ban.
”I come from an Eastern bloc country,” said Horst Antosch, owner of La Cle d’Or, who was born in East Germany. ”And I am seeing a freedom of choice being taken away. This is not like an airplane. A customer does not have to come into my restaurant if he doesn’t want to.”
Chez Pierre owner Brendan J. Donohoe added, ”A restaurant, since time immemorial, has been a place where people have gone to eat, drink, smoke and make outrageous statements or whatever they want. What’s wrong with that?”
The Times noted that some customers were also upset.
”People smoke in restaurants — period,” said Mitchell L. Katz, 37, a pension consultant, as he dined at the Mansion Clam House. ”If you don’t want to be in a restaurant where people are smoking, then don’t come in. ”
The piece ended with a quote from Second Selectman Wally Meyer:
I would hope that we would approve an ordinance that did not allow stray smoke to move from a smoking area into a non-smoking section. But we’re not boutique-ee. We’re going to come up with the most sensible solution that respects the rights of smokers and non-smokers.’
In fact, what followed was a typical Westport controversy. Following intense and contentious discussion, the RTM voted the proposal down.
After which Stolpen received death threats from an overwrought restaurant owner, and his mailbox was blown up.
“I attributed it to nicotine withdrawal and cherry bombs,” Stolpen says 27 years later.