The numbers are in – smoke-free air is good for Springfield’s economy.
Despite much public outcry over civil rights violations and a negative business impact, on April 5, 2011, Springfield voters passed the Smokefree Air Act – and reaffirmed the vote at the polls in 2012 – banning smoking in most public places across the city. According to Springfield’s Healthy Living Alliance, the ban wasn’t just a boost to Springfield’s overall health, but a boost to the bar and restaurant industry as well.
“It’s been two years since the ban went into effect and Springfield sales tax numbers in the bar and restaurant and retail industries continue to rise,” said Patty Cantrell, HLA director. “There hasn’t been the negative downturn some business owners predicted. In fact, we have seen the opposite.”
According to the Missouri Department of Revenue, taxable sales at restaurants and bars in Springfield increased 3.5 percent from 2010 to 2011, the first year of the ban. In 2012, restaurant and bar sales rose by 5.1 percent, outperforming retailers by 1.5 percent, which rose 3.6 percent.
Patton Alley Pub owner Eric Zackrison said he was glad to see the ban take effect, noting voters did what he couldn’t.
“Quite a few people had told me the pub was too smoky and said they would frequent it more if the pub were smoke free,” he said of the 10-year-old business in downtown Springfield. “At the time, I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t risk the backlash from regulars who are smokers or the Springfield community at large.
“Since the ban went into effect, clientele at the pub has increased. The ban gave everyone a level playing field. It wasn’t just one bar who was out there on a limb; we were all in the same boat.”
Since becoming smoke free, Zackrison said sales at Patton Alley are up more than 5 percent annually.
“I think maybe some of the regulars don’t come in as often, but for the most part, we gained a lot of customers who didn’t stop in because of the smoke,” said Zackrison, who now lives in California.
According to a University of Missouri air quality-monitoring study on 11 Springfield bars and restaurants – nine of which allowed smoking and two of which did not – air quality has increased from the Environmental Protection Agency’s National Ambient Air Quality Standards rating of “very unhealthy” to “moderate” during the course of one year. Pollution levels dropped an average of 80 percent in 2012.
The increased air quality rating hasn’t only improved air quality for bar and restaurant patrons, but also for staff. According to the study, due solely to their occupational exposure, a full-time employee in one of Springfield’s monitored bars that allowed smoking would exceed the EPA’s average annual limit for particulate matter air pollution by 230 percent.
Shortly after the city went smoke free, Springfield-based Finnegan’s Wake co-owner Tom Muetzel noticed the health of employees at his bar improved dramatically and sick calls decreased by 70 percent.
“There were always respiratory issues with our staff – lung problems, a cold of some kind – but once the ordinance went into effect, all of that stopped,” Muetzel said in an HLA release.
Muetzel’s business is up, too, increasing 16 to 20 percent in the months following the ban.
Smoke-free air is the new normal across America HLAs, Cantrell says. Springfield’s smoke-free ordinance is one of 3,876 across the country, up from 1,631 ordinances in 2003, according to the HLA.
“There are similar bans now in St. Louis, Kansas City and Columbia,” Cantrell said. “It’s not just Missouri who is taking note. Bans across the county have more than doubled.
“Missouri has one of the highest smoking rates in the country and that shows in our health care costs and quality of life.”
Cantrell said the HLA is currently working on an online community dashboard that would gather all of Springfield’s health-related data in one place.
“We want to be able to track health care numbers and see if the practices we implement are making a difference,” she said, noting 80 percent of health care costs are directly related to lifestyle choices. “The dashboard will highlight efforts across the community.”
Funded through a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention federal grant, Cantrell said the HLA is acting as a convening party to form a steering committee with community organizations such at the Greene County Health Department, Springfield Public Schools and United Way. Slated to go online by fall, Cantrell said organizations plan to meet for the first time later this month.
Cantrell cites a 2009 report led by cardiologist David Meyers of the University of Kansas School of Medicine as proof lifestyle changes work. Hospitalizations for heart attacks on average fell 17 percent in the first year after a community implements a smokeing ban, the report said.
“Clean air really is the new normal,” Cantrell said. “It’s a money issue for businesses, but it’s a quality of life issue for everyone.”[[In-content Ad]]