Home / Restaurant Trends and News / The Public Smoking Ban Debate Continues

The Public Smoking Ban Debate Continues

Restaurants And Public Smoking BansLos Angeles has taken the ongoing regulation of smoking in public places a step further and banned smoking in the outdoor patio areas of restaurants.  The city council voted unanimously in favor of the ban, despite repeated pleas by local restaurants that the ban would hurt business in an already down economy.  The ban will take effect one year from the time the mayor signs the ordinance.  The city plans to take that time to educate the public on the new ban and the dangers of second hand smoke in general.

It’s an argument the restaurant industry has been using for the last ten years as it attempts to maintain the status quo on smoking.  Unfortunately, a growing body of evidence shows there is no negative effect on business in restaurants when a smoking ban goes into effect, and some areas have even seen a slight rise in revenues after a ban as non-smoking patrons (who make up 75% of the population) stay longer and spend more.  The effects of second-hand smoke are also well documented, and some studies have shown a 40% drop in heart attacks in public places after the implementation of a smoking ban.

The reality is, smoking bans are here to stay, whether they regulate patios, dining areas, or any other area of a restaurant.  The argument that business will suffer also seems to ring more and more hollow as restaurants in areas with comprehensive smoking bans continue to survive, and even thrive, after the passage of the ban.

National public smoking regulation is probably coming in the next five years.  Even dyed-in-the-wool tobacco states like North Carolina and Virginia have passed public smoking bans in recent years.  It’s time for the restaurant industry to accept the reality of the situation and adapt their businesses to change rather than fighting fruitlessly to maintain the status quo.

For a more in-depth discussion of smoking bans and how they affect restaurants, plus an interesting debate in the comments section, read this public smoking ban post.

About Greg McGuire

Greg has blogged about the food service industry for years and has been published in industry magazines, like Independent Restaurateur and industry blogs like Restaurant SmartBrief. He lives in Colorado with his wife and two sons and enjoys reading, live music, and the great outdoors.

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  1. I don’t smoke but I do believe they should allow some smoking establishments, maybe in the form of a private club, for those who would like to do so. I don’t think non-smokers should have to be around smoke but there should be a way to have an establishment solely for smokers. Of course, you would never see me there…lol!

    • Hi Ed,

      I used to feel the same way – that smokers should have a “smoker’s bar” they could go to and smoke without having to worry. But as time has gone on and I realize the burden tobacco puts on our society – from health care costs and insurance premiums to the premature death of family members and the addiction of young teens, I think there’s really no place where smoking should be allowed publicly. The cost is simply too high.

      Naturally one should be free to do what they want in their own home, in private. But allowing smoking in public places only perpetuates a cycle of addiction that has killed millions and cost us trillions. We wouldn’t allow a special bar for heroin addicts. Nicotine is just as addictive. The only difference is that people addicted to nicotine can continue to carry on normal lives while they use the drug, hence why it has been tolerated for so long while other narcotics have been banned and criminalized.

  2. Nice Greg. You’re right. There’s absolutely nothing healthy or good about smoking. I was a smoker for several years of my younger life. Public display does nothing good. Is it discriminating? Yes. But for the great good of our society. Nothing against smokers…there’s just no need to influnence the habit in any way.

  3. “some studies have shown a 40% drop in heart attacks in public places after the implementation of a smoking ban” — How does this statement even make any sense?

    “public places” — a restaurant is a private establishment, unlike a government building, transit system, etc. in which individuals have little choice but to visit. i’m sure you likely meant areas in which the general public gathers, but a “public place” is a legally defined

    for the record, I’m all for restaurants choosing to go non-smoking. but this notion that we somehow have a “right” to visit and enforce our own views upon a private establishment strikes me as anti-liberty. you don’t like smoke, don’t go where it’s allowed. seems pretty easy to me. and if enough of us do it those that don’t either get with the program or go out of business. that’s a free market society. it’s the spoiled brats among us who want their cake (anti-smoking preference) and to eat it to (enforce that preference upon a business owner) so that they don’t have to potentially sacrifice anything (a restaurant they want to go to that allows smoking) that I disagree with.

    either make smoking illegal or don’t. but infringing upon private business seems the wrong way to go about it.

    • 1) Nicotine is proven to raise blood pressure (as has been widely reported and, I thought, well known), causing heart disease and increasing the chances of cardiac arrest in at-risk individuals.

      2) Any “private establishment” that also requires a license to operate granted by local government becomes a place that has been deemed important to regulate for the good of the people in a given community. I assume you don’t have a problem with the health inspector making sure there aren’t rats in the kitchen or restaurants having to meet certain standards in order to serve alcohol. Government should and does retain the same right to regulate a proven carcinogen and highly addictive substance in such establishments.

      3) For the record, government regulation of business, especially when business engages in policies or behaviors that directly affect the health and well-being of the people, is not an infringement but a core function of government in a democratic society. Those that howl with rage about free markets every time the government attempts to fulfill this basic responsibility are the same people who brought crises like the 2008 meltdown of the financial system upon our society. Capitalism can be a great economic system, as long as it is intelligently and vigorously regulated by a democratic government.

      4) Smoke if you would like in your own home. However, do not adversely affect the health and advertise the use of tobacco to others in public settings.

  4. 1) I don’t dispute (nor was I) any of those things. My confusion is the words “public places” that is used in the study. Frankly, it makes no sense to me. If you could point me to that study it’d be much appreciated.

    2/3) I think you may be grouping me in with fringe libertarians or something? I don’t disagree with anything you state about government regulation and responsibility. What I think you are missing is that that is not what you are talking about here. I’d fully support normal government health regulation channels to eliminate smoking in restaurants. Unfortunately, OSHA and its kin have evaluated the subject multiple times for just that purpose and found the levels to be perfectly acceptable (from a health perspective, not an annoyance perspective). They didn’t find it *healthy*, they found it *acceptable*. When compared to other workplace hazards (especially in restaurants) the risks were miniscule. So when that didn’t provide the answer that anti-smoking advocates wanted and expected they moved to trying to get local governments to interfere instead.

    I’m all for making smoking illegal if that’s warranted. But let’s not kid ourselves that this is the same as government health workplace regulations.

    4) Again, if it’s advertised that smoking is allowed in a private establishment then why would you enter it?

  5. I wouldn’t get too hung up on the legal ramifications of “public places.” Perhaps a better way to say it is to say that a study drew a direct correlation between the passage of a public smoking ban and a drop in hospital visits due to cardiac arrest. You can read that study here.

    I am not familiar with the OSHA study, nor do I put a lot of stock in what someone deems “acceptable” when it comes to toxicity levels. As the Surgeon General has pointed out here, 43% of Americans have detectable levels of cotinine, which is an indicator of exposure to second hand smoke. He goes on to say that even a small amount of second hand smoke exposure is detrimental to the health of an individual. If you ask me, that’s enough evidence to back a public smoking ban anywhere.

    Finally, as I stated in a previous comment, I used to be all for allowing bars or restaurants to obtain a special permit to allow smoking. But as time has gone on, I’ve realized that this doesn’t help the issue of teen smoking (creating an exclusive club for smokers is great advertising for big tobacco), nor does it help the hypocrisy quotient – cigarette smoking is bad for your health, don’t do it, but in X place it’s OK.

    Again, nobody would allow a special bar for heroin addicts. The same principle should apply here, regardless of whether smoking is illegal or not.

  6. I don’t think (at least I hope) anyone is out there arguing that smoking is good for you. That includes second-hand smoke. I think the real issue is:

    1) Should it be illegal? (or alcohol or any other number of things we know are vices and bad for us and those around us). If so, fine. If not, then like it or not we have to treat it as legal. But we can’t simply ignore facts or compare a heroin bar as equivalent to make a nice sound bite. Fight the battle to make it illegal, that I could support. But fighting just for restaurants bans makes it perceived as a selfish exercise to make your life more comfortable vs. an exercise to truly protect society.

    2) Who are we trying to protect? If that is ourselves then I think we have to take a little responsibility for our own actions and those lifestyle optional places where we *choose* to go. If that is workers then I think we need to be making logical and scientific arguments for why the government should regulate it. I also think that we need to evaluate it relative to other hazards (the carcinogens coming off of the cooking equipment are so much worse it’s not funny, yet we aren’t screaming to protect them. You need to ask yourself why. I say because you (not you personally) selfishly want to be fed and that would interfere with that desire. Just like we expect coal miners to keep working at “acceptable” risks to power our homes. I simply want sound logic to play a role vs. popularity of an idea being evaluated in isolation.

    3) Do we, or do we not put our faith in our government to weigh the pros and cons and do what’s right for society when it comes to workplace safety? If so, then accept their answer and move on. If not then who should do that? Every local municipality? Local govt. is more trustworthy than big govt.? Just fight the fight until you can get someone to enact what you want even if it’s 5 sq. mile radius? I’m not a big believer in popularity being the driving force behind health and science matters. We’ve suffered at the hands of many an injustice, both civil and criminal, due to “popular” notions.

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