Restaurant air quality improves, but debate continues a year after the smoking ban
Angela J. Cesere | AnnArbor.com
The Michigan Restaurant Association said this past week that some of its members reported negative business consequences. It wants the law repealed.
Meanwhile, a tobacco policy expert disputed the notion that workplace bans hurt businesses like bars and restaurants. And around Ann Arbor, several restaurant servers and managers said business has remained the same or gotten better. Many workers and patrons said they didn't miss the ashtray smell that followed them home.
Restaurant and tavern owners should be able to determine what’s best for their business, said Andy Deloney, vice president of communications for the MRA, which lobbied against the ban.
“Dining patrons can determine for themselves which establishments they do or do not want to frequent,” he said.
The MRA still opposes the ban and is weighing its options on how it might build momentum and repeal the law, Deloney said. Citing a survey of 300 of its 4,500 members, he said about 100 reported that the ban hurt their business. A local tobacco policy expert who previously testified in Lansing in favor of a ban said this week that those kinds of claims are baseless. He said at least 100 studies have shown smoking bans do not hurt the hospitality industry.
“And it is quite possible there is no general source of environmental pollution as dangerous to so many people as second-hand tobacco smoke,” said Kenneth Warner, a University of Michigan public health professor who has studied tobacco policy since 1976.
Smoking kills around 440,000 people a year, and before 30 states implemented workplace bans like Michigan’s, around 50,000 per year were estimated to die from conditions brought on by second-hand smoke, Warner said.
About half of smoking deaths are from lung cancer, Warner said. Smoking also causes a host of other cancers, as well as cardiac and lung diseases.
Around Ann Arbor, opinions were mixed nearly a year after the ban went into effect on May 1, 2010.
Walt Bishop, a Fleetwood Diner regular who smokes, didn’t have any sympathy for people who want to smoke in restaurants. The Fleetwood, a townie and after-bar favorite, was a smoker’s paradise until the ban passed.
Bishop said the atmosphere has improved since the ban was instituted.
“It’s much more pleasant in here,” he said.
Melissa Sheffer, a server at Fleetwood, didn’t favor the ban when it passed and she feels the same way a year later. She also disagrees with its uneven application — casinos and cigar bars allow smoking under the law.
“I felt it should be left up to the owner. I still feel that way,” she said.
She smokes, but prefers doing so outside, ban or no ban. She added that the air quality has improved at the diner.
Jill Mazzola has three children under 5, and neither she nor her husband smoke. At a late lunch at the Arbor Brewing Company this past week, she said the smell of smoke would have stopped her from coming in to grab lunch. Her family loves the ban.
The Arbor Brewing Company went smoke-free well ahead of the statewide ban, in August 2009, said general manager Renee Schantz. It caused a dip in business in the game room, where smoking was allowed, at the brewery and restaurant at first. But business bounced back, especially after smoking was banned everywhere else, Schantz said.
Last Wednesday, the state released its own study of 40 Michigan bar employees that said the ban has improved bar workers’ overall health and reduced second-hand smoke.
Old Town Tavern bartender and server Amy Hudson, who smokes, said she had far fewer colds and lung problems in the months since the smoking ban took effect.
Hudson recalled working in a thick cloud of cigarette smoke each time she tended bar prior to the ban.
“I just feel better,” she said. “I can breathe better. I used to go home and smell like an ash tray.”