Smokers and Businesses Oppose Beach Smoking Bans

Published June 1, 2004

When anti-smoking activists pushed to ban smoking in workplaces, and then in restaurants, and now even in bars, supporters of freedom of choice warned the alleged health risk to non-smokers was merely a smokescreen for activists to build momentum to ban the use of all tobacco products, anywhere and at any time. Now, their warnings appear to be ringing true, as Los Angeles and other communities are pushing to ban smoking on open-air public beaches.

In early April, the 15-member Los Angeles city council indicated it would impose the ban before the summer beach season.

“[Smoking is] disgusting, inexcusable, and hopefully soon it will be illegal,” said Los Angeles Councilman Jack Weiss.

Realizing even the most biased studies find no health threats to non-smokers from people smoking in such expansive open-air places as beaches, anti-smoking activists have invented other justifications for the proposed beach ban. Weiss, who drafted the bill, said he was inspired to craft the legislation after “spending hours on my hands and knees” picking up cigarette butts on area beaches.

Some observers are skeptical of Weiss’ beach-cleaning efforts. “Let’s think about who is paying the taxes for these beaches,” said Ray Domkus, a spokesman for the California branch of the international smokers’ rights group FORCES. “As a smoker, I’ve paid my share of taxes. Why can’t I smoke in the open air? The argument is usually the trash, which smokers can be pretty poor about. But what about all the dirty diapers, cans, and papers that accumulate? If you’re going to ban smoking, why not ban everything else?”

Smoking bans also have economic consequences. Local businessman Mike Vasko explained to Reuters news service, “If they stop the smoking on the beach the people would not go, believe me. Lots of people from Europe and Asia–everybody–they smoke. What I hear from them is they cannot go there anymore [if a smoking ban is enacted]. There’s no way to smoke. That’s the point. Los Angeles will lose business. Lots of business.”

A survey conducted by International Communications Research (ICR) found 76 percent of New York City bars and nightclubs have had a 30 percent decrease in customers, and 34 percent have had to lay off workers as a result of the city’s recently imposed ban on smoking in bars. The ICR study confirmed similar findings from an earlier study conducted by the New York City chapter of the New York State Restaurant Association.

Nick Jones, owner of Soho House in both New York and London, reports his New York customers are unhappy with the smoking ban. “It removes choice and I think that if you talk to a lot of people, even people who don’t smoke, they think that the ban is wrong in New York. It is quite a dictatorial way of dealing with a problem.”

“Bartenders and owners are suffering significant economic losses as a result of the ban. Some estimates are as high as a 30 percent loss in takings,” said David Rabin, president of the New York Nightlife Association. “Another big problem is increased noise from smokers on the streets, leading to calls not to grant further liquor licenses for new venues. The ban is disrupting the entire economic, social, and entrepreneurial life of New York.”

Los Angeles’ hospitality industry, one of the most important components of the area economy, predicts similar hardships if the city council enacts a beach smoking ban.

James M. Taylor is managing editor of Environment & Climate News. His email address is [email protected].