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Smoking gun? Study shows little impact from smoking ban, but trade group pushes for options

Publication Date: 10/15/2012
  • Author:Nick Manes
  • Publication:MiBiz

Two and a half years ago, many West Michigan bar and restaurant owners worried that their businesses could be snuffed out like finished Marlboros in an ashtray.

The reason: The state had approved a ban that would prevent people from smoking in their establishments. Without the ability to let patrons smoke and drink, many wondered how they would continue to maintain the steady stream of regulars who helped sustain their businesses.

Depending on who you ask, the impact of the ban has either been indiscernible or business-altering.

In August, the University of Michigan released a study tracking sales tax collected at bars and restaurants, as well as the sales of cigarettes and Club Keno, in relation to the state’s smoking ban, which took effect on May 1, 2010. The authors said the data had “no significant negative effect” on bars and restaurants — or on cigarette sales.

The results of the state-funded study, however, are being called into question by a bar and restaurant lobbying group, as well as some business owners.

The U-M study states that “overall, the evidence is consistent with the results from other states and localities that have found no significant economic effects associated with smoking bans.”

The Michigan Licensed Beverage Association, a trade group for bars and restaurants, has disputed the findings of the study. Scott Ellis, executive director for the MLBA, stated that the U-M study was not comprehensive because it failed to include on-premise liquor sales, which he said were down 3.2 percent. MLBA released a report using state numbers that showed off-premise sales increased the same amount — 3.2 percent.

Aside from the association squabbling about the numbers, however, the MLBA is not interested in repealing the smoking ban, Ellis said. Instead, the group would like the state to consider different options other than a total ban. Currently, the law is written that smoking is not allowed anywhere drinks or food are served.

The association said it would like the state to consider “some sort of compromise, like a patio or smoking room,” he said. “If the establishment wanted to make a rule where the employees don’t have to go in there to serve — (or) whatever the establishment wants to set up, but give them two options.”...

“We’ve been up every year since the smoking ban took effect,” Sellers said. “In fact, in July 2010 (just after the ban went into effect) we hit an inflection point and things really took off. I think it’s because people who used to not go out to bars because of smoke now venture out more often.

“Not only did it have no negative effect on our business, it had a positive effect.”

Sellers said anecdotally that he thinks those grousing about the ban are mostly the establishments that have no food, since their crowds tend to be there just to drink and are more likely to smoke.

Sellers takes a hard line on the MLBA’s stance on the smoking ban.

“Any rhetoric uttered by fear mongers about how the smoking ban would hurt restaurants was pure political dogma,” Sellers said....