Thursday, October 07, 2004

READER RESPONSE -- Last call for “Cheers”?

Posted by Craig Westover | 5:34 PM |  

Sue Jeffers from Stub and Herb’s, a institution on the University of Minnesota campus, submitted the following letter-to-the-editor, which unfortunately, hasn’t yet seen the light of day. She nails the real smoking issue as sharply as one of Norm’s opening lines.

For 25 years I have run a local college bar. The kind "where everybody knows your name." I enjoy the "Norms" and "Cliffs” who are my regulars. I've provided jobs for countless "Dianes” and Carlas." I've paid over a million dollars in taxes. Now because some cities and counties think my customers and staff are too stupid to make adult decisions they want to cancel my show.

Craig Westover’s column was right. A smoking ban will significantly hurt my business. Based on other cities data comparing actual bar statistics, a smoking ban could cost me about $250,000 the first year.

A smoking ban means many of my Norms and Cliffs won't share as many laughs and buy as many drinks or meals. The Dianes and Carlas won't work as many hours or make as much in tips. I won't pay as much in taxes.

It is easy to "protect" people from the minimal risk of SHS without a ban. A posted sign allows a person to know and accept or not accept the "risk" without ruining a night out for Norm and Cliff, costing Diane and Carla their jobs and depriving the city of taxes that could be used to pay for police and firefighters.

A smoking ban is not necessary or right.

To smoking ban proponents, Sue’s is “anecdotal evidence,” and therefore invalid. They point to general data. Take for example these “valid” statistics put forth by Bloomington as part of its justification for a smoking ban.
  • Municipalities with ordinances requiring smoke-free restaurants and bars showed no decrease in revenues compared to municipalities with no such ordinances.
  • Sales tax data from 81 localities in 6 states consistently demonstrate that ordinances restricting smoking in restaurants have no effect on revenues.
  • In a study comparing 5 counties with restaurant smoking ordinances and 5 similar counties with no such ordinances [in North Carolina], no adverse economic effects were found on the restaurant industry.

The common thread in this kind of evidence is that the city is only concerned with its revenue -- the Sue Jeffers of the world be damned. In other words, taking property rights and revenue from a few individuals is okay as long as the city’s revenues don’t drop.

And smoking bans do have a disproportional impact on some types of bars and restaurants.

. . . In jurisdictions with smoking bans, small taverns and restaurants have seen their revenue decline 25 to 80 percent. Fewer customers spend less time ordering fewer drinks and less food. Many small businesses have closed their doors.

Consequently. . .

It is unjust for government to arbitrarily change established conditions in the marketplace without compensating private businesses for losses they might suffer because of such changes. If "the public" benefits from dictating a change in long-established codes governing the ways a person may use his or her private property, then "the public" should justly compensate the individual property owner for any losses incurred by that change.

(Would public officials be so quick to impose their prejudices if their constituents had to foot the bill?)

It is disingenuous for smoking ban proponents to ignore the negative impact of bans on individual businesses by lumping them into larger categories that render individuals conveniently invisible.

Advocating a smoking ban for the "public good" and casually dismissing the negative impact on individual businesses is stealing from those businesses every bit as much as reaching into the till and pocketing the day's take.

If local officials are intellectually honest, they will weigh the "threat" of individuals allowing smoking on their properties against the real-dollar community cost to arbitrarily deny that choice, a cost that must be borne by taxpayers.

Or did I miss the lesson where it's OK to enact unjust laws if the injustice only affects a few people?