Smoked Out: Group Says Ban Has Caused Drop in Bar, Tavern Business

Published December 6, 2011

Apparently, smoking bans are dangerous to the business health of Michigan bars and taverns that traditionally have a high percentage of customers who smoke.

The state’s ban on smoking in places of business, including bars, taverns, and restaurants, began about halfway through 2010. Now comes data showing purchases of alcoholic beverages at establishments in Michigan with on-premises liquor licenses fell off severely between 2010 and September 2011.

These statistics were compiled by Protect Private Property Rights in Michigan from the Michigan Liquor Control Commission website. PPPRM is fighting to have the smoking ban lifted.

Big Declines

The MLCC data showed 3,048 license holders reported a decrease in purchases and 2,162 license holders reported decreases of 10 percent or more. In addition, the data showed the state’s 375 private and veterans clubs reported on average an 18.6 percent drop in purchases.

The data showed alcohol purchases up 4.4 percent at corporate, family-oriented, and/or quick turn establishments. This indicates the anti-smoking ban claims were valid about the ban disproportionately affecting traditional bars and taverns.

Groups such as the Michigan Restaurant Association also oppose the ban. However, they advocated that, if adopted, the ban should cover all establishments equally. Generally, the types of establishments that seem to be suffering the most from the ban aren’t represented by any lobbying group or association in Lansing. This was also the case while the ban was being debated in the Legislature.

Supporters Blame Weak Economy

Supporters of the ban argue the fall-off in sales is probably more a result of the weak economy than the impact of the smoking ban.

“I haven’t seen these numbers, so I can’t comment on them specifically,” said Shelly Kiser of the American Lung Association. “Our primary objective is people’s health. The economy is not doing well. Jobs are scarce, and if the only job someone can find is in a bar they still have the right to a safe working environment.

“I can also say that every study that has used objective measurements has shown that workplace smoking bans do not harm the economy,” Kiser continued. “I’m talking about objective studies, not anecdotal statements.”

“That’s a lot of BS,” said Pam Lezotte, owner of Buster’s Place in Trenton. “I’ve lost my smoking clientele. Instead of coming here, they’re holding house parties, where they can smoke while they drink.”

She also said it isn’t difficult to distinguish between the effects of the ban and those of the recession.

“We [the bar] were packed right up to the day that the smoking ban started,” Lezotte said. “It’s clear that the ban chased away regular customers. When we held an outdoor event my smoking customers were back, but they aren’t back into the bar. They want to be able to smoke while they drink.”

‘Customers Have Been Lost’

Theresa Shackleford, owner of The Village Bar in Wayne, says there’s no doubt in her mind the smoking ban has seriously hurt her business.

“It absolutely has not been because of the economy,” Shackleford said. “It used to be that summer was typically the slowest season for bars. There are so many other things to do in the summer. But now our business falls off in the winter because customers don’t like to have to stand outside in the cold weather when they smoke. It’s already starting to get colder out, and our business is beginning to drop off.”

Stephen Mace, executive director of PPPRM, said the bad economy has made things tougher on bar owners. He added, however, aspects of bar and tavern business have always been recession-proof and the smoking ban has cut into the heart of that portion of the customer base.

“Look, bars have survived good times and bad times,” Mace said. “People drink during good times and people drink during bad times. When people are happy they drink, when they’re sad they drink. The truth is that customers have been lost because of the smoking ban.”

Jack Spencer ([email protected]) is capitol affairs specialist for Michigan Capital Confidential, a news service of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, where this article first appeared. Used with permission.