Nonlobbying businesses harmed the most
Apparently, smoking bans are dangerous to the business health of Michigan bars and taverns that traditionally have a high percentage of smoking customers.
The state's ban on smoking in places of business, including bars, taverns and restaurants, began about halfway through 2010. Now comes data showing that purchases of alcoholic beverages at establishments in Michigan with on-premise liquor licenses fell off severely between 2010 and September 2011.
These statistics were compiled by Protect Private Property Rights in Michigan from the Michigan Liquor Control Commission website. PPPRM is fighting to have the smoking ban lifted.
The MLCC data showed that 3,048 license holders reported a decrease in purchases and 2,162 license holders reported decreases of 10 percent or more. In addition, the data showed that the state's 375 private and veterans clubs reported an average of 18.6 percent drop in purchases.
The data also showed alcohol purchases up 4.4 percent at corporate, family-oriented and/or quick turn establishments. This indicates the anti-smoking ban claims were valid about the ban disproportionately affecting traditional bars and taverns.
Groups like the Michigan Restaurant Association also oppose the ban. However, they advocated that, if adopted, the ban should cover all establishments equally. Generally, the types of establishments that seem to be suffering the most from the ban aren't represented by any lobbying group or association in Lansing. This was also the case while the ban was being debated in the Legislature.
Supporters of the ban argue that the fall-off in sales is probably more a result of the weak economy than the impact of the smoking ban.
“I haven't seen these numbers, so I can't comment on them specifically,” said Shelly Kiser of the American Lung Association. “Our primary objective is people's health. The economy is not doing well. Jobs are scarce and if the only job someone can find is in a bar they still have the right to a safe working environment.
“I can also say that every study that has used objective measurements has shown that workplace smoking bans do not harm the economy,” Kiser continued. “I'm talking about objective studies, not anecdotal statements.'
What about the effects on specific businesses, as opposed to the overall economy?
“Some of the studies have been very narrowly focused,” Kiser said. “And they show the same results.”
But many bar owners tell a different tale.
“That's a lot of BS,” said Pam Lezotte, owner of Buster's Place in Trenton. “I've lost my smoking clientele. Instead of coming here, they're holding house parties, where they can smoke while they drink.”
She also said it isn't difficult to distinguish between the effects of the ban and those of the recession.
“We (the bar) were packed right up to the day that the smoking ban started,” Lezotte said. “It's clear that the ban chased away regular customers. When we held an outdoor event my smoking customers were back, but they aren't back into the bar. They want to be able to smoke while they drink.
“The smoking ban has really hurt us,” Lezotte added. “We've even had to tap into our retirement savings to get by.”
Theresa Shackleford, owner of The Village Bar in Wayne, said there was no doubt in her mind that the smoking ban has seriously hurt her business.
“It absolutely has not been because of the economy,” Shackleford said. “It used to be that summer was typically the slowest season for bars. There are so many other things to do in the summer. But now our business falls off in the winter because customers don't like to have to stand outside in the cold weather when they smoke. It's already starting to get colder out and our business is beginning to drop off.”
Stephen Mace, executive director of PPPRM, said that the bad economy has made things tougher on bar owners. He added, however, that aspects of bar and tavern business have always been recession-proof and the smoking ban has cut into the heart of that portion of the customer base.
“Look, bars have survived good times and bad times,” Mace said. “People drink during good times and people drink during bad times. When people are happy they drink, when they're sad they drink. The truth is that customers have been lost because of the smoking ban.”
A key argument supporters of the ban make is that bar employees shouldn't be exposed to the hazards of cigarette smoke on their jobs. Meanwhile, those opposed to the ban argue that employees are capable of deciding whether or not an available job is appropriate for them.
“It's like someone saying they want to be a bridge builder but they're terrified of heights, so we have to change how bridges are build to accommodate them,” said Norm Kroll, owner of The Office Lounge of Port Huron.
“It's also costing more for heating and cooling,” Kroll said. “Customers are coming in and out to smoke. The doors are being opened all of the time. We're losing air-conditioned air in the summer and heating in the winter.”
Kiser argues that not all bar employees are smokers and, if they are, they're still better off smoking outdoors than indoors.
“We've heard bar owners say their employees are smokers, but then we turnaround and find a nonsmoker who works in a bar and says they're bothered by the smoke,” Kiser said. “And, even if the worker is a smoker, it's not as hard on their health to run outside and smoke as it is to constantly be in an indoor smoking environment.”
According to Kroll, his bar is being hurt by a combination of the poor economy, tougher drunk driving laws and the smoking ban. But how much of the damage is being wrought by the ban?
“If they ended the ban, we'd get between 25 and 30 percent of our customer back,” Kroll said.
The figures released by PPPRM were based on current year-to-date purchases through September 2011 and previous year purchases for 2010. To analyze the data, the group calculated the monthly average and compared 2011 to 2010 (dividing 2011 data by nine months and 2010 data by 12 months).
Considering that the smoking ban took effect mid-year 2010 (which means half of the 2010 numbers would be lower as well as those of 2011), the statistics indicate a large and continuing drop in purchases in 2011.