One of the things I’ve often criticized about smoking bans is their methods of offering exemptions. When legislators let some businesses continue allowing smoking, the decision is usually based on things like percentage of tobacco revenues, demonstrated economic hardship, number of seats, and various other measures. The problem is that these measures are never perfect; there are always tobacco-centric businesses that for some reason don’t meet the guidelines (this has been especially true in Oregon).
The smarter way to offer exemptions — aside from keeping government out of the question entirely — is to simply let businesses pay to be exempt. Business owners who consider smoking essential to their operation will pay a price to let it continue, while those who consider it incidental will comply with the ban. There’s no bureaucratic wrangling, the number of smokefree options for customers and service industry workers will increase, and the revenues could be used to pay for health care.
Since the anti-smoking movement has become a moral crusade, modest ideas like that never get any traction. Yet it is being tried temporarily in Kansas City, where businesses can pay a $250 annual exemption fee through 2011. The result:
The business license department for the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kan., said 50 of the 316 restaurant and bars in the city have bought exemptions.
That’s a strikingly low number, about 15% of the restaurants and bars in the city. That leaves 85% remaining for the non-smokers to patronize. Not a bad ratio, don’t you think? Perhaps by 2012 Kansas City residents will make these sensible exemptions permanent.
I’d also be curious to know how many restaurants and bars were smokefree before the ban. I’d expect that the free market was trending toward that ratio anyway and may have reached something close to it within a few years.