I am part of a dying breed, an independent bar and restaurant owner, and I have been trying to fight the smoking ban in Minneapolis, St. Paul, and Bloomington over the last six weeks. Let me tell you about the people involved.
They are the business owners, fighting for their livelihood, armed with well-documented studies, negative revenue statistics, and available technology options begging for common sense. These people will be ignored. A smoking ban will plague family-run bars and restaurants throughout the Metro Area. All will lose money. In the first year, I will lose $250,000. After that, who knows? Some will survive, but many neighborhood establishments will fold and others will sell out. Soon, Minneapolis will be inundated (more than it already is) with chain restaurants and sports bars.
The elected officials will sit and pretend they care about what is being said and are listening to the business owners with an open mind. It is clear that they are not.
City Council members have not helped. In fact, a few have attacked me personally. Because I value each and every one of my customers, smoker or not, I used some common sense and researched the facts, asked questions and then called them liars. They will try to shut me up, not an easy task.
Some council members refuse meetings or to return phone calls, some call me an idiot, some just ignore me or tell me they don’t have any time to spend on the issue. One will send me nasty e-mails telling me I “have been smelling too much French fry grease and they will ignore my bizarre and addled ideas” (Thune, St. Paul). One will refuse to look at any data I present and tell me “it isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on and my cheeseburgers will be next” (Zerby, Minneapolis). One will tell me “we looked at every study done on secondhand smoke before they made their decision” (Harden, Bloomington). All 130 of them? I doubt that.
I have found that people at these public hearings can be divided into three groups: the smokers, the nonsmokers, and the smoke-haters. The smoker and the nonsmoker categories are self-explanatory. The third group, the smoke-haters, for many wrong reasons believe there is no greater evil than Big Tobacco.
The smoke-haters are taxpayer-funded activist organizations–using exaggerated risks, fear, and lies, together with billions of dollars–are successfully railroading city councils, counties, and states to pass smoking bans. These organizations, with the help of local governments, don’t have to tell the truth, they just have to say it is a health issue. They cannot provide one death certificate stating secondhand smoke killed someone. They won’t provide any names of the people that died from secondhand smoke because if the smoke-haters had even one name it would be plastered everywhere.
You will hear smoking bans are being passed everywhere. They will not tell you 36 of 41 proposed smoking bans in Minnesota failed before Bloomington and Minneapolis caved to these special-interest group lies and voted in favor of a ban. The smoke-haters won’t tell you many cities, counties, and states overturned a smoking ban legally, legislatively, and by popular vote. They won’t tell you that they made a mistake earlier when they told you that orange juice, salt, beef, microwaves, and cell phones will also cause cancer.
You won’t hear secondhand smoke is not a class A carcinogen. You will not hear the cause of cancer is unknown or they located the region of genes that sharply increases the risk of developing lung cancer–not an environmental element, but a biological connection for the cause of lung cancer. You won’t hear air can be safe even with smoke in it. Technology is not even an option in their quest to eliminate the evil weed.
At every public hearing will be paid “medical experts” wearing white lab coats and carrying “patient” files spouting biased, exaggerated, and speculative linkages to secondhand smoke. Their unchallenged figures will be accepted as fact. No one will tell you these studies have been successfully challenged in court and proved biased. No one will include factors like genetics, weight, cholesterol, high blood pressure, age or even if the patient was a smoker in their effort to pass a smoking ban. The smoke-haters will not tell you a federal judge told the EPA its findings were “outright fraud.” No one will tell you the figure of 3,000 lives lost from secondhand smoke is computer generated.
Advocates of the ban will cry that cigarette smoking is unhealthy and therefore our nanny-state must regulate everyone for our own good. They will repeatedly call my business public property. By restricting rights on privately owned property, even with good intentions, we have an arbitrary code of behavior being enforced on our citizens.
Bans are a bad idea. Bans do not make people healthier. Bans do not make people quit. Bans cost cities and counties jobs, revenues, and businesses. Bans didn’t work in the early 1900s and they won’t work now.
I was in over my head when I took on this battle. I underestimated the smoke-haters, their money, and the media. I overestimated bar owners, smokers, and common sense. I truly believed elected officials would listen to the little guy. I believed they actually represented the citizens and the businesses in their city. I did not realize no one was willing to look at the facts.
So, I will now go back to running my bar. I will have to work longer and harder. I will not hire as many people as I try to gauge the impact of this ban. I will try to keep my staff and customers safe enforcing yet another regulation. I will sweep up the cigarette butts on the sidewalks and apologize to my neighbors for the increased noise, litter, and vandalism. I will likely terminate the lease of my neighbor so I can tear down the building and provide a safe place for my staff and customers to smoke.
I am a business owner. I don’t want to blow smoke in your face, in your homes, or even in your business. I want to run my business. Please don’t force your regulations on me. What is more important–jobs and revenues or an exaggerated health risk? While smoke-haters rejoice the new ban, my booths will sit empty and family-run bars and restaurants will slowly, but surely, fade away from the Minneapolis landscape. I will grow old waiting for all those nonsmokers to come pouring through my door.
Sue Jeffers ([email protected]) runs Stub and Herb’s on Oak Street in Minneapolis. She wrote this article in July 2004 in opposition to a smoking ban ordinance the Minneapolis city council passed on July 23. The ordinance goes into effect March 31, 2005.