Local bar owners react to smoking ban

On Dec. 10, House Bill 4377 prohibiting smoking in all work establishments with the exception of casino gaming floors, cigar bars and tobacco specialty shops passed in the state legislature after months of debate since the bill was first introduced by House Democrats in February.

The statewide measure, similar to other legislation adopted in 37 other states, has sparked debate among area bar and restaurant owners about whether the smoking ban will hurt or help businesses, and whether the legislation represents unnecessary government intrusion.

Contrary to the conventional argument that banning smoking will have an adverse impact on bars as regular smokers whom have grown accustomed to pulling up a stool and lighting a cigarette will now elect to stay at home, several Ypsilanti restaurateurs not only welcomed the smoking ban but celebrated it.

For Linda French, longtime owner of Sidetrack Bar and Grill, the legislation couldn’t come soon enough as they had taken steps to limit smoking at the Ypsilanti nightlife fixture even before the bill had been introduced at the state level.

“We actually welcome it,” French said enthusiastically. “For years we were smoking and we had a small non-smoking section, but about a year ago we stopped smoking for lunch and dinner and it increased our business tremendously.”

When the bill’s passing was announced, French said there was typical grumbling from some of her regulars but she doesn’t anticipate the smoking ban affecting area bars and restaurants in any way. In fact, she is confident that her fellow restaurateurs will see an uptick in business as non-smokers will be more apt to patronize the local nightlife.

“I get people telling me all the time, ‘Now I can come out and eat at Sidetrack,'” French said. “We actually for years debated on whether to make this place non-smoking, even before all the restaurants in Ann Arbor decided to go that way.

“But when we did it, it was like a dream come true! I guess I should be the poster child for the non-smoking movement.”

Renee Greff, owner of the Arbor Brewing Company and Corner Brewery in Ypsilanti, agrees with French saying that the smoking ban has been long overdue. In August, Renee and co-owner husband, Matt Greff, made their Arbor Brewing Company smoke free not in anticipation of the bill but because they felt as if the state legislature would never be able to get the bill passed.

“We thought (the state) would never get it done so we just thought it would be easier if we did it ourselves,” she said.

At the Corner Brewery, opened in 2006, the Greffs employed a smoke-free atmosphere from day one and Renee said nearly all of the data concerning smokers and the bar/restaurant industry has shown that most patrons welcome smoke-free establishments and no-smoking legislation. She said the argument that such legislation represents government overstepping their boundaries is simply a “scare tactic.”

“That argument doesn’t hold any weight whatsoever,” Renee said. “It’s a matter of public health. Employers don’t get to decide whether to put their customers around poisonous or dangerous substances.

“It’s like saying the government has no say over what temperature I can set my coolers to – of course, they absolutely have a say because it’s a matter of public health.”

Renee, like French, did admit when they instituted no smoking at Arbor Brewing Company, there was some grousing from regulars, but in the long run she is confident having the brewpub smoke free is better for business.

“We thought that going smoke free would give us a competitive advantage. When we did go smoke free…we gained some new people. We’re hoping that some of the people we lost, when this bill goes into effect, that they will want to come home,” Renee said. “If people look at the data…it is overwhelming that it shows going smoke free always increases business.”

Not all local bar and restaurant owners are so thrilled with the legislation, however, as Jim LaChance from the recently opened Bone Heads Bar-B-Que in Willis said the legislation has state government trespassing on basic rights.

“I’m not happy about the government telling us what to do, what not to do and where do it,” LaChance said. “People have been smoking for hundreds of years…to me I just think there should be places one can go and smoke and a bar is one of them. I just think it’s something that should be left alone.”

As far as business, LaChance doesn’t expect to see much, if any kind of a drop-off despite the fact they typically get a lot of smokers patronizing the restaurant. He said that he has talked with several regulars who feel the same way about the legislation.

“We just feel like the government shouldn’t be telling us what to do,” he said. “Next thing you know, they’ll be telling us what we can do at home.”

source: www.heritage.com

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