reWorking Michigan: Smoking ban amendments may help struggling restaurants

Lansing, MI –

The state's restaurant smoking ban has been in place for over a year now. The law is considered a significant victory for smoke-free air advocates. But some business owners say it's cut their customer base and hurt their profits. Now, lawmakers are working on amending the ban. | SKIP down to article


You win some, you lose some

When the total ban on smoking in restaurants and bars went into effect in May of last year, supporters celebrated it as a major victory for public health. Many business owners also supported the ban on the premise that it would attract non-smoking customers to their cleaner facilities.

But not everyone has benefited from the change. Owners of some bars, bowling alleys and even private social clubs say their customers have left and have not been replaced by non-smokers.

Republican Senator Rick Jones wants to amend the law to give restaurant and bar owners more flexibility. Jones originally voted against the ban.

"I just think this is very un-American for state government, big government, to tell a private club that they can't have smoking in a facility," says Jones.

His proposal would allow businesses to open separate smoking rooms where no food or beverages would be served.

Another bill under consideration sponsored by Democratic Representative Tim Melton would allow smoking on outdoor patios.

Finding a compromise

That would suit Dennis Carter. He's the general manager of Brannigan Brothers in Lansing. Carter says his restaurant would likely receive a boost in revenue if the smoking ban were amended. Carter strongly supports Melton's proposal to allow smoking on outdoor patios. He says the ban hasn't hurt his business that much, but it has had some unintended consequences.

"Here in Lansing, we cannot have something out on the patio to put cigarette butts, so 98 percent of the cigarette butts we clean up in the morning on the sidewalk," says Carter.

He says the restaurant could monitor it more if smoking was allowed on its patio. He says patrons also try to sneak drinks out of the bar when they go out to smoke.

And it's not just businesses that critics say have been hurt by the ban. Rick Jones says Michigan's fiscal coffers have also taken a hit. He says sales of the Michigan lottery's popular Keno game have lost as much as $80 million since the ban.

But the Keno numbers are disputed. The American Heart Association's Katherine Knoll says Jones and other politicians are using the drop in Keno sales to bolster the argument against the ban, even though there's no direct evidence of a connection.

"In September 2010 there was a $10 million dollar cut in the budget to advertise for Keno," she says. "So, to blame the decline in Keno sales to the smoke-free law doesn't make a lot of sense."

Knoll says three-quarters of Michigan residents support the smoke-free air law, and she says the law is no different than other laws designed to protect public health and shouldn't be changed.

Both amendments to the smoking ban are currently in committee and are not expected to reach the floor of the Michigan House or Senate until early fall.

reWorking Michigan
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