There has been much ongoing debate over the effect of public smoking bans on restaurant business. As more and more states move to ban smoking in almost all public buildings, a counterculture has been pushing back by openly flouting the bans in their communities.
This counterculture is especially strong along the Illinois-Indiana border since Illinois passed a statewide public smoking ban earlier this year. Indiana has no such ban, which has put an especially hard burden on bars and restaurants here, since their smoking customers can simply drive a few miles across the border to enjoy tobacco in public.
These unfortunate establishments have fought back by starting a fund to cover their costs if they are fined for violating the ban. The Crowbar Inc. bar has a “smoke jar” – $5 for every customer who lights up. They’ve been cited twice already, and the money from the smoke jar helped cover their costs.
The owner of the Crowbar defends his smoke jar as the only way he can keep customers from simply moving across the state line. And perhaps he’s right in continuing to allow smokers to light up in his establishment.
But the hard reality is, public smoking bans are here to stay. Eventually the day will come when every state in the union bans public smoking, and restaurants and bars are going to have to adjust to this fact sooner or later. Yes it’s tough for these few places along the border just outside Chicago. But they’re going to have to face the music sooner or later.
Overall, public smoking bans are not bad for business. Many studies have shown that restaurant traffic stays steady or even increases after a ban is passed. Unfortunately, certain segments of the restaurant industry, particularly bars and restaurants that cater to the blue collar (who are also more apt to smoke) are hit very hard.
That doesn’t change the fact that public smoking bans have an immediate and measurable effect on public health. Heart attacks in public venues has been shown to drop as much as 40% after the passage of a public smoking ban. This is because nicotine, even small amounts ingested through second hand smoke, constrict blood vessels and raise blood pressure. Add in all the other negative effects of tobacco smoke and those that try to justify allowing public smoking sound like a pretty callous lot.
The bottom line is, smoking in public is not only bad for you, it’s bad for those around you. Choosing to smoke is and should remain an individual’s own bad decision. But when you start affecting other people’s health by your bad choice, something must be done. And that’s why public smoking bans will and should continue. Restaurants are just going to have to deal with any lost business, real or imagined.