A year after it was implemented, the statewide smoking ban is receiving mixed reviews from bar and restaurant owners.
At Theo’s Bar & Grille in Lower Allen Township, owner Ted Kalathas said he lost some of his regular bar clientele. “My bar crowd was tremendous. At the same time, what can I do? The people out for happy hour who want to light a cheap cigarette are going to go somewhere else,” he said.
On the flip side, food sales at the FireHouse Restaurant & Bar in Harrisburg rose 10 percent and alcohol sales remained steady in the past year since the ban was enacted, said owner Donny Brown. “For us, everything is better. We used to allow smoking at the bar but the diners were so sensitive to it. Now that there is no smoking, we have more patrons,” he said.
The ban, part of the Clean Indoor Air Act, brought fresh air to public places such as sports venues, workplaces and restaurants. The law carves out exceptions for private clubs, cigar bars, and bars where sales of food consumed on the premises make up 20 percent or less of annual sales.
Restaurant owners say since the law took effect last year on Sept. 11, it has both helped and hurt business. Some establishments are attracting more customers in their dining rooms while others have lost bar regulars.
Robert Pangonis of Harrisburg, who smokes, said he basically stopped going out to eat because many of his favorite restaurants and bars are now nonsmoking. “I only go to places where you can smoke outside or inside,” he said.
Others, like Christy Leiter of Tower City in Schuylkill County, said she now frequents establishments she used to avoid. “It has changed for the better. I hate to go to places where the smoke lingers and you can just smell it when you get there. It’s unappetizing,” she said.
Patrick Conway, president of the Pennsylvania Restaurant Association, said he’s not hearing an overwhelming amount of concern — positive or negative — these days from restaurant owners. “A lot of business owners and those in the public saw it coming,” he said.
At the Paxtang Grill in Paxtang, owner Nik Sgagias said bar business initially dropped off at the neighborhood restaurant after the ban took effect. However, Sgagias said the tradeoff is food sales in the dining room recently increased. The Paxtang Grill recently opened a 40-seat outdoor patio as a place to accommodate smokers. Still, Sgagias said he’s irritated by inconsistencies in the ban.
“It should just be passed nonsmoking across the board or let the consumer decide,” Sgagias said.
State Sen. Stewart Greenleaf, R-Montgomery County, who fought for the smoking ban for 15 years, introduced legislation earlier this year to close loopholes allowing for smoking at casinos, bars and private clubs.
The Pennsylvania Restaurant Association supports a more comprehensive ban for the health benefits of employees working in the hospitality industry, Conway said.
Meanwhile, some establishments are happy to have a choice. “The way the system is set up, there are opportunities for people to choose where to go. That’s actually kind of nice how it played out,” said Rick Galiardo, owner of Sam Bucca’s Pizza Pub in Harrisburg.
So far, 249 citations and 288 warnings have been issued statewide to establishments for allowing smoking and/or having no signs or improper signs about being a nonsmoking place, according to the Pennsylvania State Police Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement.
Eleven establishments in five midstate counties — Cumberland, Dauphin, Lebanon, Perry and York — have received citations, while seven establishments in those counties have received warnings. Businesses that violate the ban can be fined $250 fine for the first violation and up to $1,000 for subsequent offenses.
About 518 complaints have been filed statewide.
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