When voting in favor of the statewide smoking ban in December 2009, Michigan legislators didn’t know their vote would keep them out of certain restaurants today.
Almost a year and a half after the implementation of Michigan’s Smoke Free Air Law, a group of Michigan bar owners has begun to protest the legislation by refusing to allow state legislators into their establishments. However, while these restaurant owners have seen reduced profits because of the ban, many Ann Arbor bars have seen an increase in revenue because of it.
Stephen Mace, executive director of Protect Private Property Rights in Michigan, said his organization represents approximately 500 bars and restaurants throughout the state that lost business due to the smoking ban, which was officially implemented on May 1, 2010. He added that though legislators attempted to provide a more pleasurable, smoke-free atmosphere for customers, they ignored the smokers that comprise “large portions of their clientele.”
“Our suggestions to Lansing are either repeal the law, outlaw tobacco or compensate these bar owners for being deceived.”
Mace said PPPRM is not advocating tobacco use, but rather the bar owners’ right to manage their businesses as they wish. He said bar owners who are members of PPPRM will continue to prohibit legislators from entering their establishments until the ban is repealed.
But for many bar and restaurant owners, participating in the protest is more about solidarity rather than turning away law makers.
Boyd Cottrell, owner of Sporty O’Tooles in Warren, Mich. — which has seen up to a 40-percent decrease in profit since the ban — said he is not going to kick out legislators from his bar due to the large number of state politicians that are customers. However, he said he is trying to “get the word out” about persuading the state to repeal the ban in light of the bar’s significant drop in business.
“It’s a frivolous thing to do, but it’s something,” Cottrell said. “I don’t think it (will) be too effective, (but) we’ve got to stick together and be heard, and maybe something could come out of it.”
To address the discontent among bar owners in their constituencies, state Rep. Doug Geiss (D–Taylor) and state Sen. Hoon-Yung Hopgood (D–Taylor) held a meeting with approximately 100 Michigan bar and restaurant owners last month to discuss the smoking ban.
“My (goal) is to try to strike a balance between the rights of non-smokers and the rights of smokers,” Geiss said. “Forcing people to go outside has caused (bar owners’) business to go down on average around 25 percent. I’ve (also) heard from those that are non-smokers (and they) don’t want to be impacted by other people’s smoke.”
Geiss has currently introduced a bill in the State House of Representatives that would alter the smoking ban to allow enclosed smoking rooms in bars. While smoking rooms are illegal under the current ban, Geiss’s proposed solution is already in place in Michigan casinos.
Though Cottrell and many business owners across the state have felt financial repercussions from the smoking ban, several Ann Arbor establishments have reported either equal or increased business since abiding by the law and thus have not joined the group of 500 bar owners in the protest.
State Rep. Jeff Irwin (D–Ann Arbor) said he is unaware of any bars in the Ann Arbor area that are banning legislators from entering because of the smoking ban. Irwin — who has been a state representative since January — added that he has not been contacted by any dissatisfied business owners in his constituency about negative effects of the smoking ban.
John Fraser, owner of Fraser’s Pub on Packard Street in Ann Arbor, said his revenue went up at least 10 percent after the smoking ban was enacted due to a new group of patrons. Fraser, a smoker himself, said he doesn’t see any issue with making smokers go outside and wouldn’t consider prohibiting legislators from entering his pub.
“I respect people’s air. If I want to smoke, it’s my problem,” Fraser said. “Anyone who has a problem with (smokers going outside) is kind of silly.”
Other Ann Arbor bar owners and managers voiced similar sentiments, including Paul Thomas, manager of Casey’s Tavern on Depot Street in Ann Arbor. Thomas said Casey’s Tavern became a non-smoking establishment four years before the statewide ban was enacted, which ultimately resulted in an increase in food sales but a decrease in alcohol sales for the company.
“If you’re going to have people come in and smoke, it’s a short-term solution to a long-term problem,” Thomas said.