The air is cleaner, but Sal Diana says his wallet is a little lighter, too.
In the year that’s passed since the state’s indoor smoking ban went into effect, Diana shut down Humphrey’s restaurant in the Beaver Valley Mall — a staple there for 15 years — in part because smoking customers had moved on.
“It wasn’t the killer for me, but it contributed, there’s no question,” said Diana, who closed Humphrey’s in July. “You noticed that after a certain hour, that crowd you would always get wasn’t showing up any longer. They all went somewhere where they could smoke.”
State health officials touted the anniversary, saying a recent study by the Pennsylvania Alliance to Control Tobacco found that air pollution inside the state’s bars and restaurants dropped by an average of 87 percent since the ban took effect. The study also said that smoke-free air will save the lives of 52 people working in the hospitality industry each year.
“We have spent the past year educating businesses about the law and what it means for them. We are happy the vast majority of those businesses are smoke-free,” Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Everette James said in a statement. “All Pennsylvania citizens deserve to work in a healthy environment.”
Diana, who also owns Sal’s Ristorante in Chippewa Township, said while there’s no question that most of his customers appreciate the nonsmoking environment there, as was the case with Humphrey’s, the smokers have found another place to eat and drink.
“The people who are coming in to eat love it, and that’s the biggest part of the business there, by far,” he said. “But the younger ones who came in the evening to have a beer or have a cocktail, they’ve moved to one of the places that has an exemption.”
The ban hurt Diana, and it had an impact on fellow bar owners across the state. The Pennsylvania Tavern Association has said that the number of taverns in the state dropped from 16,000 six years ago to 12,500 this year; it also estimates that hundreds of those closings came since the ban.
“These are guys just trying to make a business work, and the state drove a big chunk of their customers elsewhere,” he said. “The law isn’t fair to everyone, that’s the shame of it.”
Diana said that’s his biggest problem with the ban; rules that allow cigarettes pall-mall in some places while denying it at others. The law states that establishments can be exempted from the ban if food sales make up less than 20 percent of its gross revenue. It also permits exemptions for private clubs and at the state’s casinos.
“Why are we protecting private clubs?” he asked. “Why are we protecting the casinos? The law should have been a complete ban, or we shouldn’t have done it at all.”
At Sal’s, smoking customers can step out onto a patio for a smoke; the same thing is available at Bocktown Beer and Grill in The Pointe at North Fayette. Owner Chris Dilla said her business has been smoke-free since it opened almost four years ago.
“That was the right choice for us, because of what we do here,” Dilla said. “We serve craft beer and we’re very proud of our food, and we want our customers to be able to taste what we serve.”
Dilla said she hasn’t heard complaints about Bocktown’s no-smoking policy, although she said the restaurant’s patio has helped. When she opens a second location in the former Humphrey’s space in the Beaver Valley Mall later this year, she knows smokers won’t have anywhere to go.
“They’ll have to step outside the mall, so we’ll see how that goes,” she said. “My guess is that I’m going to have the same kind of customers at the new place — and there are a lot more nonsmokers than there are smokers, so I think we’ll be OK.”
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