An Oregon smoking ban prediction

I’m supposed to be in Houston right now. Yesterday my bags were packed and, despite being skeptical that my plane home would depart on time, I trudged my luggage through the freshly fallen snow to the train that would take me to the airport. The train wasn’t running. I checked my phone and now neither was my flight. Thirty minutes on hold with Southwest booked me a new ticket on the 24th and three more days in a paralyzed city.

This is all mildly inconvenient for me, but it’s hell for people in the service industry. December is a vital month for them. Because of the record snowfall — the highest for a Portland December since 1968 — my bartender friends are being told not to come into work. Many places aren’t opening at all. Companies are canceling their Christmas party reservations, taking with them all the revenue they’d promised. Combine this with the national recession and 2008 is turning out to be a glum year for area bars and restaurants.

What does this have to do with smoking bans? Oregon’s goes into effect on January 1. By January 2010, the economic uncertainty we’re facing now will hopefully have subsided. And unless it’s another freak year for weather, December will bring its usual boost to Oregon restaurants. If that happens, smoking ban proponents will be able to cite statistics showing that bar and restaurant business went up after the smoking ban, “proving” that they were right and we who oppose the ban had nothing to worry about.

A similar dynamic played out in New York City in March, 2004, a year after the beginning of its smoking ban. The city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene issued a report showing that the bar and restaurant business had grown in the year following the ban. Critics countered that the study misleadingly conflated bars and restaurants and neglected to account for the economic recovery following the 9/11 attacks.

Who’s right? I don’t know and I don’t care. As I’ve said before, this is a stupid argument. The financial objections to smoking bans aren’t based on how they affect net hospitality industry revenues, but on how they impact individual smoking-oriented businesses. Generalized statistics obscure the impact on bars that can’t get an exemption, lose customers, and justifiably feel like their rights are being trampled upon. It’s cold comfort to tell them to suck it up because, well, at least their competitors are making money.

If 2009 is a decent year for Oregon’s bars and restaurants, I predict that this is the kind of claim we’re going to hear from local ban supporters. I’d like to go on the record now to point out that such crude analysis should be seen for the irrelevant BS it truly is.

Pipe down!
Taking the LEED on smoking bans


8 thoughts on “An Oregon smoking ban prediction”

  1. In every town where smoking is prohibited, bars, restaurants and other establishments that serve the public have shown an increase in profits. Why? Because there are a hell of a lot more people who don’t smoke as opposed to those who do smoke, which means the latter will now spend money in those places. Hell of a lot easier to make money off of 80% of the population that doesn’t smoke instead of the 20% who do smoke. So take that and stuff if in your pipe, Grier. And why don’t you stay in Houston so we don’t have to breathe your smoke when you come back.

  2. Steve, did you even read the post? It doesn’t matter that smokers are a minority. 20% of the population is plenty of people toward which to orient a niche business. More than 80% of people probably enjoy burgers and pizza for dinner too, but that doesn’t mean more specialized restaurants can’t make money catering to esoteric tastes.

    Regardless of what happens to net bar and restaurant revenues following the ban, some businesses are going to be negatively impacted by it. That is an unjust imposition on their owners and employees.

  3. Setve, why don’t you come here to Columbia, Missouri and say that to the face of a few business owners who closed after the local smoking ban here went into effect? One such tavern closed down on New Years a year back with a last hurrah. I sure felt like crap saying good night to the co-owner who lost his house and his way to support himself due to four nanny-state votes on our city coucnil, but I’m sure you could have given him some chipper words to pick him up, right?

  4. The decision to have a smoking or non smoking facility should be left up to the proprietors only. That is the only way that EVERYONE has a choice. People would have a choice to go to a smoking or non smoking facility and the proprietors would have the choice to have a smoking or non smoking facility. There are already a lot of non smoking places to eat and drink but now there are NO places where you can go where you can also smoke. I don’t undertand how anyone has the right to tell the owners of any facility what they can and cannot do with their own business.

  5. Personally, I had to stop going to all of my favorite bars when I found out I was pregnant. I was never a smoker and I choked it down to hang out with my friends, drink beer and play pinball. Then I got preggo and had a baby and couldn’t justify going because no matter what I did I would come home reaking of smoke. I could not subject my baby to that. So those places lost tons of money by me and my boyfriend not going there anymore. All local dive bars. Now that the law has passed I can actually go. I can spend my money and my time there not worrying about my baby or me or having to choose to go to some crappy “mom” bar/cafe where I don’t want to be anyway. And I can actually see my friends again, they just have to go outside to smoke but they don’t seem to mind because its like old times again. I understand how this sucks for everyone that wants to smoke where they want to smoke, but there are also a good number of people who want to be able to go to places they want to go. No matter what, someone feels rejected, either because they have a habit or because they don’t.
    I agree, everyone should have a right as to what they can do in their establishment, but they have inspections and crap for a reason. It’s the same thing as forcing handicap entrance. Just because I’m not handicap why should I have to fork out the money to pay for the appropriate accommodations? That’s the way it works and this was just a matter of time.

    I would suggest bar owners find something else to push to bring people in. Get the best jukebox in town, get all the good pinball, get something for people to do while drinking instead of while smoking.

  6. Why is it such a big deal to go outside to smoke? I live in Columbia, MO and find it very nice to be able to go to a restaurant and not breathe in secondhand smoke. I can understand wanting to be able to smoke in bars, but even then just run outside and smoke. No matter what people will still go to bars and restaurants the ones who can adapt the best will survive and flourish, such is life.

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