Some fear loss of tax, business revenue if smoking ban is approved

In the battle over the proposed Springfield smoking ban, much of the sparring has centered on the potential costs to businesses, charities and residents.

Citing published studies in cities with existing bans, supporters argue smoking restrictions have no overall negative impact on local economies, with nonsmokers replacing any smoking customers who are lost.

“The revenue tends to stay flat,” said Clean Air Springfield spokeswoman Carrie Reynolds. “But I understand that fear.”

The claim has not gone undisputed. A 2008 report by economist Michael Pakko — dismissed as political activism by ban supporters — concluded that sales tax receipts at bars and restaurants in Columbia declined 3.5 percent to 4 percent the first year that city’s ban was in effect.

Regardless of the overall economic impact, opponents say some businesses in Springfield will suffer if the ban passes.

“This ordinance would make it illegal for me to develop new products,” said Christian Hutson, owner of Just For Him. “Our whole business is tobacco.”

Hutson, who ships tobacco blends he and his staff develop to customers internationally, said it’s not feasible to do that work outside.

He said he hasn’t decided what he’ll do if the ban passes. Challenging the ban in court or approaching City Council to amend the ordinance — possible only by unanimous vote after six months — are options, he said. Eventually, he might have to move.

Chris Slater, owner of downtown hookah lounge and tobacco shop The Albatross, said his business likely will close if the bill passes.

“We’re in a unique situation where we make most of our money from people smoking in the shop,” said Slater, whose business, which opened about a year and half ago, sells cigars and pipe tobacco in addition to renting the multi-stemmed waterpipes to visitors.

Slater said he thinks it’s hypocritical that the ban, ostensibly meant to protect the welfare of workers, would put his four employees out of a job.

Reynolds said businesses like Slater’s simply have to adapt, perhaps by relocating to a space that allows for outdoor smoking.

“We would like to see people take it outside,” she said. “Outdoor venues are a much better venue for everyone involved.”

Slater said the suggestion “doesn’t make any sense.”

“Nobody has to come into my shop who doesn’t want to,” he said. But if smokers move outside, passers-by would be confronted by secondhand smoke that, as of now, stays inside.

Charity, cancer

Powell McHaney, former bingo chair for the Heart of the Ozarks Sertoma Club, opposes the ordinance on similar grounds. “Nobody gets subjected to smoke at bingo that doesn’t want to be.”

McHaney worries the proposed smoking ban could cause a drastic decline in the amount of money the club collects from its weekly charity bingo games at the Knights of Columbus’ Bingo Emporium.

The club raised $210,000 from bingo in 2010, he said. “It’s our primary fundraiser for the kids.”

A 2008 study of charitable gaming in Minnesota tied passage of a statewide smoking ban there to a 7.5-8 percent decline in revenue, McHaney said. “It’s definitely gonna hurt us — how much is the question.”

Reynolds said Sertoma and other affected groups may have to change the way they raise money.

“It’s people’s lives and I don’t think you can put a dollar amount on that,” she said.

Restaurant owner Anton Tasich argues the costs are much greater if the ordinance fails.

“A year ago in January, I was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer and had never smoked a day in my life,” said Tasich, who has owned Anton’s Coffee Shop on Glenstone Avenue more than three decades.

The restaurant went non-smoking in 2003 — before City Council passed the most recent smoking ordinance, Tasich said — but the 79-year-old is convinced secondhand smoke was the cause of his cancer.

“There’s no question in my mind,” Tasich said. “For 50 odd years I managed restaurants of all types … I was exposed to that smoke eight to 10 hours a day.”

Springfield resident Lynda Crowder blames secondhand smoke for her cancer, as well. A former music teacher, Crowder, 66, was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1999 and — after eight years in remission — again in 2007.

Never a smoker, Crowder thinks breathing secondhand smoke while working as a waitress in her teens, as well as exposure in social situations later, was the cause.

“There was a time when there was a teachers’ lounge (in public schools) where it was OK for teachers to smoke,” she said. “We didn’t think anything about it.”

Crowder, who had a lung removed as part of her cancer treatment, said the smoking ban would allow her to go to some restaurants she avoids because smoke impairs her breathing. But she’s more concerned with protecting others from the same fate.

“I used to have the attitude that what people did in their private lives was their business,” she said. “But now I think we ought to do everything we can to prohibit disease.”

source: www.news-leader.com

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