State Smoking Bans – Good or Bad for Business?

Recently business owners in many parts of the country are alarmed as they learn their state has passed a law banning smoking in public places. Typically, these are restaurants, bars, sporting arenas, bowling alleys and similar pubic places. Disputes consistently arise over the advantages and disadvantages that this legislation causes businesses. Many of their best customers smoke while patronizing their businesses.

Typically when a state passes legislation to ban smoking in public areas, the business owners are given a designated period of time (i.e. 90 days, 1 year, etc.). Most recently, Pennsylvania passed a law prohibiting smoking in public places and gave a 90-day notice before all restaurants, bowling alleys, etc. must make their businesses smoke-free.

Pennsylvania’s new law is a compromise bill, allowing some bars, private clubs, and casinos to maintain their right to allow smoking. This exception allows smokers to continue lighting up while gathering with friends at certain public locations.

Politicians responsible for bills preventing smoking in public places claim to be taking measures to protect public health. Not only will smoking bans discourage smoking altogether, but it will protect innocent, non-smoking bystanders from the unwanted health risks of second-hand smoke. A person is responsible for their own health when they choose to light up a cigar or cigarette, but it is not their right to endanger the health of others. Without smoking bans, non-smokers’ only choice in avoiding smoke may be to avoid public places altogether. Smoking bans free people to venture into public places without worrying about the health risks from outside sources.

Other reasons politicians may promote such a bill is to reduce health care costs. In an age where health coverage is expensive and sometimes not available for all, it is important to reduce the risks that can be controlled.

While some smokers are angered by bans, others understand the reasons and are willing to comply. One smoker implied that since he must go outside to smoke at home, he might as well go outside to smoke when he’s in public

Often business owners are apprehensive that these laws will hinder business. Others take such bans in stride by helping their consumers adjust to new laws by restricting smoking privileges before laws go into effect. Still other entrepreneurs are bothered by a feeling of being discriminated against due to bans in certain establishments while not others. Jim Mitchell, restaurant owner in Pittsburgh commented, “All I’ve ever asked for was a level playing field, but what that Legislature [PA Smoking Ban Bill] has done is said that smoking is unhealthy in my establishment but it’s not unhealthy in casinos, clubs and small restaurants, and it just shows that public health takes a backseat to money.”2

Store owners are understandably disturbed by the presence of smoking bans, but oftentimes, to their surprise, business actually increases due to these prohibitions. Restaurants and bars in Massachusetts saw sales rise in the first six months following their ban in July of 2004. Additionally, a study by the Harvard School of Public Health tested 27 bars and restaurants to find that, “Dangerous, cancer-causing toxins plummeted by 93 percent once cigarettes, cigars, and pipes were banished.”3 The Boston Globe reports that, “An increasing body of evidence also suggests that what’s good for the health of workers and patrons may also boost the bottom line of businesses.”3 Rise in business is attributed to people gathering in bars for food and enjoying sitting at the bar without concern about whether someone will be sitting with them smoking.

While restaurants seem to benefit from smoking bans, other businesses, as predicted, suffer. Bowling alleys are one public place that seems to take a hit. Hundreds of league bowlers have quit, causing several thousands of dollars of losses for bowling alley owners.

Most likely, there will continue to be some dissension about laws prohibiting smoking in public areas. Overall, the health benefits heavily outweigh any monetary losses suffered by business owners, and many businesses benefit from the bans as well. Over half of the states in the nation now have at least some kind of prohibition against smoking in public establishments.

What is your state’s smoking regulation?

Smoking banned in restaurants:

            - Georgia

            - Idaho

Smoking banned in non-hospitality workplaces:

            - South Dakota

Smoking banned in bars and restaurants:

            - New Hampshire

Smoking banned in restaurants and non-hospitality workplaces:

            - Arkansas

            - Florida

            - Louisiana

            - Nevada

            - North Dakota

            - Pennsylvania

            - Tennessee

Smoking banned in restaurants, bars, and non-hospitality workplaces:

            - Arizona

            - California

            - Colorado

            - Connecticut

            - Delaware

            - Hawaii

            - Illinois

            - Iowa

            - Kansas

            - Maine

            - Maryland

            - Massachusetts

            - Minnesota

            - Montana

            - New Jersey

            - New Mexico

            - New York

            - Ohio

            - Oregon

            - Rhode Island

            - Utah

            - Vermont

            - Washington

No statewide smoking ban:

            - Alaska

            - Alabama

            - Indiana

            - Kentucky

            - Michigan

            - Mississippi

            - Missouri

            - Nebraska

            - North Carolina

            - Oklahoma

            - South Carolina

            - Texas

            - Virginia

            - West Virginia

            - Wisconsin

            - Wyoming

Paul Galla,President