Criticisms up in smoke

20 Feb

I hate bars. I mean, I really hate bars. I hate bars because bars have smokers. I really really hate smokers. I mean, I really really really hate the consequences their actions have on me. Their smoking makes me smell bad. It gives me headaches. It makes my nose all stuffy. This might seem like trivial things, but I truly loathe being around smokers more than just about anything else.

Now I could just avoid bars, but bars have something else that I like to be around. It isn't the drunk undergraduate coeds (although that's a bonus, especially when they are my students!). No, bars often have my friends in them. I like spending time with my friends. I just can't seem to get them to spend time with me outside of the bars. This means that I have to choice between my friends and the smoke, or being a loner with a good sense of smell. Sadly, too often I have to choose the latter. This is why I am an advocate for smoking bans. That and the reduced costs to society when the incidence of lung cancer caused by second-hand smoke declines.

A few years ago, Iowa City tried to ban smoking in certain establishments. Real bars would be exempt since the ban only applied if a business made less than 50% of its revenue from the sale of alcohol. Of course the bar and restaurant owners cried foul. They claimed that it would lead to lost revenue. They would all go out of business if the law was passed. They seemed to forget that the bars were the social life of 20,000 undergraduates who were going to get drunk in the bars whether they could smoke or not.

In the single instance since I've lived here of the Iowa City City Council making good policy, the ban actually went into effect. A professor in the business college did a study and found that the ban's effects on revenue were negligible. It was so nice to be able to out and enjoy a restaurant without having to worry about the smoke. It didn't resolve my problem with the bars though because they were still exempt. Sadly, the city soon repealed the smoking ban because a similar law in Ames, Iowa was struck down as being against state law. Stupid Iowa Supreme Court.

All this is a long way to get to a point about smoking bans. Rather then try to exempt some businesses from smoking, we really should go the route of New York and Ireland and ban smoking in restaurants and bars. That would avoid many of the issues that eventually doomed the law in Iowa (although not all of them). And for the critics that claim that business will go down? Take a look at the effect of the smoking ban in New York:

Back in 2002, when the City Council was weighing Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg's proposal to eliminate smoking from all indoor public places, few opponents were more fiercely outspoken than James McBratney, president of the Staten Island Restaurant and Tavern Association.

He frequently ripped Mr. Bloomberg as a billionaire dictator with a prohibitionist streak that would undo small businesses like his bar and his restaurant. Visions of customers streaming to the legally smoke-filled pubs of New Jersey kept him awake at night.

Asked last week what he thought of the now two-year-old ban, Mr. McBratney sounded changed. "I have to admit," he said sheepishly, "I've seen no falloff in business in either establishment." He went on to describe what he once considered unimaginable: Customers actually seem to like it, and so does he.

Business is actually up in New York's bars. Might not have anything to do with the smoking ban, but it sure as heck kills the argument that smoking bans are bad for business. In fact, there is no documented case of a smoking ban causing a decline in business in any town or city that has implemented one. At least at the aggregate level, smoking bans are good business (or at least neutral business).

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