If owners of most of the 61 bars and restaurants exempt from Springfield’s 2003 restaurant smoking ban aren’t concerned about the proposed citywide ban on public smoking, at least one retailer is – and he plans to fight.
The co-owner of Just For Him LLC has taken up the sword.
The shop, a men’s gift, cigar and tobacco store in Fremont Center, has a smoking room customers can use to sample their purchases. The ban would force Just For Him to close the room and possibly the store, said co-owner Christian Hutson, who bought the store last year.
“If we are unable to smoke in my cigar shop, our shop would probably wither and die,” said Hutson, whose shop has been open 21 years. “We would probably be forced to move outside of Springfield.”
The proposal was announced June 10 by a group led by One Air Alliance and Springfield Mayor Jim O’Neal.
On its Web site, One Air Alliance contends that employees of workplaces where smoking is permitted are exposed to secondhand smoke for longer periods of time and in closer proximity than others in the vicinity except for the smokers themselves.
The proposed ban has received statewide attention and could appear on the Springfield City Council meeting agenda as soon as June 28, according to alliance spokesman Stephen Hall.
Hutson said he is focusing on fighting the ban, by assembling a well-thought-out argument to send the proposal up in smoke. In the cigar shop’s newsletter, Hutson urges business owners to contact their council members and voice concerns at a June 28 public hearing at the council meeting.Holy smoke
Some of the exempt bars and restaurants believe if the ban is citywide, little economic impact would be felt, according to the owners, though several contacted for this story weren’t willing to go on record about it.
“If it’s a citywide ban, I don’t think it will impact us at all,” said Kasie Harman, general manager at Trolley’s Springfield LLC, 107 Park Central Square. “People will still drink regardless of whether they want to smoke or not, if they know they can’t.”
Hutson disagrees about the proposed ban’s potential impact, and he is working to organize business and bar and tavern owners to oppose the proposal.
Hutson said the proposal could force him to cut staff and possibly close.
“In this economic situation we find ourselves in, I don’t understand why the mayor is going to make it harder on small businesses,” said Hutson. “The other problem I have in addition to losing business because of customer loss, it would interfere with business practices. How am I supposed to develop tobacco blends if I can’t smoke them?”
Right now, he said, he’s working to bring as much exposure to the issue as possible by contacting local bars and taverns to get their points of view.
“A lot of these guys are really upset,” Hutson said. “They don’t want to talk about it. It’s an unpopular issue. It’s one I’m not afraid of at all. I promote the responsible use of tobacco by adults.”
The existing ban exemptions are for several classifications of eateries, including those that earn more than 50 percent of their revenue from alcohol, get $200,000 or greater in annual gross sales from alcohol or have less than 50 seats and those that have separate smoking sections with separate ventilation systems.
Russ Koeneman, owner of Marty’s Place Sports Bar at 3322 S. Campbell Ave., said although nearly 50 percent of his customers smoke, he isn’t worried about a loss in sales if the citywide ban is approved.
“In cities that have done this, within 90 days they get a little bit back and then some,” Koeneman said. “There’s a possibility of drawing people in.”
He said he only asks for a fair playing field.
“If it’s across the board and no one can (allow smoking), I’m not worried,” he said. Smoke signals
The local debate has lit a fire under St. Louis lobbyist Bill Hannegan. On behalf of Keep St. Louis Free, Hannegan has sent multiple letters expressing opposition to O’Neal and council members.
According to www.keepstlouisfree.blogspot.com
, the St. Louis group aims to protect personal freedoms and property rights from government intervention and harassment.
“We have a stake in what happens in Springfield because each city that comes under a ban makes it more likely that there will be a statewide ban,” Hannegan said in a telephone interview.
Kansas is already there. Its statewide smoking ban goes into effect July 1.
The law exempts casino and racetrack gaming floors; private clubs in existence Jan. 1, 2009; designated areas in any private club where persons under 18 are prohibited; tobacconists; designated hotel and motel smoking rooms; designated smoking areas in nursing homes and health care facilities; and all outdoor areas, unless within 10 feet of an entry to a public building.
Ahmad Enayati owns restaurants on three sides of the state line in the tri-state region – Chatters in Pittsburg, Kan., (nonsmoking) and Webb City, (allows smoking) and Crabby’s in Joplin and Rogers, Ark. (both nonsmoking).
“It was a preference,” Enayati said. “As long as we felt as though we had a place to offer our smoking guests, we felt comfortable going nonsmoking.”
Hannegan cited multiple studies, each indicating that smoking bans cut bar employment and revenue.
A study by former St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank economist Michael Pakko indicated that a Columbia smoking ban in its first year cut bar revenues 11 percent and revenues of restaurants that serve alcohol 6.5 percent.
In a study published in Forbes magazine, economist John Tomlin argued that the bans hurt the hospitality industry. The article says previous studies, mostly conducted by health care professionals instead of economists, have been flawed. When economists study smoking bans, they find economic harm.Smoke and mirrors?
Lobbyist Hannegan said a better solution is to exempt the venues as Springfield did originally. He cited a 2003 survey by the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services that found only 25 percent of Greene County residents want to see smoking banned in bars and cocktail lounges.
Hannegan also claims the study being used by One Air Alliance misapplies the Environmental Protection Agency’s Air Quality Index to judge the safety of indoor workplace air, a purpose for which it was never intended.
“The (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) standard is maybe too lax to be appropriate for a bar, but the EPA standard is really strict,” Hannegan said. “It covers what an asthmatic would have to breathe or what a newborn, people in an extremely delicate situation would be affected by.”
One Air Alliance materials contend that these workers are exposed to 2.5 times the toxicity limit recommended by the Environmental Protection Agency.
“No one’s going to believe anything from me regarding science because obviously, I’m a tobacconist,” Just For Him’s Hutson said. “It would be just as biased to believe a study from an anti-smoking group.”
Enayati said when he chose to go smoke-free several months ago at his Pittsburg, Kan., eatery, business increased.
“We actually picked up business from folks that hadn’t been going to bars because it was too smoky,” he said. “It brought in a new clientele.”
Still, he doesn’t like government telling him how to run his business.
“I’ve never been good about being told I have to do anything. You have so many people in government who have never owned a business,” he said.