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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Wasn’t the Smoking Ban Going to Destroy Bars?

posted by on June 11 at 16:41 PM

Remember all those of nicotine-laced tears shed in anticipation of the certain closure of hundreds of bars and taverns across our state after voters approved a state-wide smoking ban in November of 2005? Well, guess what: Business at bars and taverns was way, way up last year, according to the Washington State Department of Revenue.


Bars and taverns, which feared being hard hit by the ban on smoking in public places, generated 20.3 percent more gross income in 2007, compared to a meager 0.3 percent gain in 2006, the first full year after the smoking ban took effect in December 2005. Their average growth rate actually was stronger in the two years after I-901 than in the years preceding the ballot initiative.

Most people don’t smoke and most people—including most smokers—don’t want their hair and clothes to reek after a night out. So who could have predicted that making bars and taverns more appealing to more people would result in more patrons coming through the doors? Uh, this guy did in Eli Sander’s feature, “Last Gasp,” that appeared in the Stranger more than a year before we voted on the smoking ban:

When I ask Stanton A. Glantz, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco who has studied the economic impact of smoking bans in California and elsewhere, to tell me what he makes of the argument that smoking bans hurt business at bars and restaurants, he says, “There’s a technical term for that: Bullshit.”

In New York City, which enacted its ban in March 2003, receipts at restaurants and bars are up by 8.7 percent one year later, and employment at those businesses is up by 10,600 jobs, according to a study conducted by the city. In Victoria, where opponents of the 1999 ban claimed a devastating $6 million loss to bars and restaurants, a study commissioned by the Vancouver Island Health Authority found that this loss did not, in fact, take place. In El Paso, which enacted its ban in 2002, a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found no negative economic impact.

“This is something that has been studied over and over and over again,” Glantz says, his voice rising with exasperation at the fact that people are still calling to ask him whether the economic harm argument is true. “There have been more than 100 places studied. And it has simply never materialized.”

RSS icon Comments


"Up," Daniel. "Way, way up."

I'm not trying to be a jerk -- god knows we all make mistakes (cf. Mr. & Mrs. Cornball).

Posted by Jubilation T. Cornball | June 11, 2008 4:48 PM


Posted by OR Matt | June 11, 2008 4:56 PM

The smoking ban meant that people like me and my friends went out to a lot more bars, because we didn't have to shower and destink our clothes afterwards.

And, since we're not addicted to tobacco, we have a lot more disposable income.

Posted by Will in Seattle | June 11, 2008 4:56 PM

A smoking ban would result in more customers for bars, a Bush presidency would a disaster, invading Iraq even more so... How strong is people's self-delusion that they miss what is so obvious?

Posted by lostboy | June 11, 2008 4:58 PM

Stanton A. Glantz is a beautiful man.

Posted by Fnarf | June 11, 2008 5:01 PM

Just to echo already obvious sentiments with my own anecdotal evidence: I am way more inclined to go to shows and bars these days now that I don't have to worry about coming home with a cough and a wretched stink on my clothes/hair.

Posted by Brian | June 11, 2008 5:02 PM

Uh, well, gee, Lostboy...

Posted by Dan Savage | June 11, 2008 5:03 PM

It's a lot more fun to be a non-smoking artist now, I'll tell you that. Go smoke outside you goddamn hipsters!

Posted by Sirkowski | June 11, 2008 5:06 PM

You're forgiven, Dan.  I'm just sayin'...

Posted by lostboy | June 11, 2008 5:07 PM

If business is up because of the ban, why wasn't there at least a meager increase in 2006?

...making bars and taverns more appealing to more people would result in more patrons coming through the doors?

You can say that the smoking ban didn't cause business to go down, but saying that the ban caused business to go up just doesn't follow.

Also note that this isn't a metric like "persons through the door per year" like you said, it's a revenue metric. Bars simply could have raised prices, or the same number of people came and simply drank more due to #4. Are Republicans hitting the bars more because of that eeevil Democratic congress? I can't really think of anything else.

Posted by w7ngman | June 11, 2008 5:08 PM

But the cigar aficionados, bars, and stores are getting signatures for an initiative that would punch a big loophole in I-901, allowing virtually anyplace to call themselves a "private club" and permit smoking on the premises. Pay your $1 "membership fee", and come right on in and light up!

Not just cigars, mind you, the deprivation of which is allegedly the reason for the initiative, but cigarettes, as well. Kiss your smoke-free nightlife goodbye, if it passes!

Posted by Murgen | June 11, 2008 5:11 PM

w7ngman @10:

If business is up because of the ban, why wasn't there at least a meager increase in 2006?

There was an increase in 2006. It completely negated the business lost to the smoking ban.

Posted by lostboy | June 11, 2008 5:13 PM

Now I'm really confused.

I was all on board when Fnarf said earlier that if there was a 20% wage gap for women, then some companies would take advantage of that and sooner or later they would drive the discriminating companies out of business.

Yet here we have this huge opportunity for bars: they could have boosted their profits long ago by banning smoking. Why didn't non-smoking bars dominate the market long before the smoking ban came along.

How can this be? I'm starting to wonder if survival of the fittest even applies to business at all.

Posted by elenchos | June 11, 2008 5:16 PM

The only downside to the smoking ban is that it has become a lot harder for me to figure out if a woman smokes or not - no matter how much I like them, think they're sexy and intelligent, etc ... for me, smoking is a deal breaker (other than occassional green stuff).

But ... even if this is a side impact, it's still a lot better than the situation before.

Posted by Will in Seattle | June 11, 2008 5:16 PM

Why would a bar owner making more money nonsmoking seek a loophole to allow smoking? Maybe owners who want to smoke at work, or...maybe some bar owners are making less money depending on their clientele, or...hmm.

Posted by tomasyalba | June 11, 2008 5:20 PM

@10 There was a delay while enforcement started and it took a while for people to learn how much more pleasant a bar could be with no smoking. Possibly, they could raise prices as non-smokers have more disposable income to spend on drinks.

Posted by mikeblanco | June 11, 2008 5:28 PM

i remember the main argument being that you would have to smell all the farts because tobacco smoke wouldn't be there to mask it.

but apparently people LIKE that smell.

Posted by max solomon | June 11, 2008 5:28 PM

I remember the tears The Stranger shed about the 25-foot rule, and your foolish opposition to the ban. As if that rule was ever really going to be inforced.

Posted by me | June 11, 2008 5:33 PM

Will, there is a place for smoking women in our society. As my old man told me long ago, if they smoke, they poke. I'm batting 1.000 on that one. That said, I couldn't be happier about Illinois' ban.

Posted by P to tha J | June 11, 2008 5:46 PM

Someone ought to bring Dan up to speed on the distinction between causation and correlation.

Posted by Mr. X | June 11, 2008 5:51 PM

#13 - I thinks there's a lot of undocumentable (that a word?) anomalies in business (I refuse to say "paradigm shift"). In this case, it's the culture of drinking that shifted just a little. In my opinion, banning smoking slightly broadened the general audience of bar-goers.

If bars individually had become non-smoking on their own volition, the pioneering non-smoking bar (the first to disallow smoking) in the sea of "regular" bars would only serve to be that TYPE of bar, a weird anomaly that caters to people that KNOW they want to go somewhere, but only where non-smokers (which is to say, people that don't smoke, not people that smoke outside) hang out... they might do good business, but the wouldn't succeed in creating NEW customers, just siphoning a few out of the existing pool... if that makes sense?

I could ramble about this for a while and not explain it any better.

The closest bar to my place is still smoking-allowed, and even as a non-smoker, I rarely want to go there specifically because of that.

Posted by Dougsf | June 11, 2008 5:53 PM

#14 Will - I'm kinda the opposite. If I were single now (knock knock knock) - granted I quite smoking 4 years ago and would rather not date a smoker - but WEED is the deal breaker for me. I am in the 10% of people I know that doesn't regularly smoke pot, and I'm so sick of stoners it's incredible.

Posted by Dougsf | June 11, 2008 6:00 PM

The cigar smoking initiative will not make every place a smoking club. If a business makes more than 25,000 in tobacco sales, they can allow smoking.

If a club is making so much more business due to the ban, why would they change anything?

Oh, and there were at least 3 cigar bars that went out of business within weeks of the ban.

Where should people who want to smoke a cigar go to enjoy it?

Posted by ecce homo | June 11, 2008 6:43 PM

Just over a decade ago one of my Profs, proposed that ash trays in restaurants would go the way of spitoons within the decade. I didn't believe it. Next time I see him I can look forward to hearing him say 'I told you so'.

Posted by yucca flower | June 11, 2008 6:53 PM

It's okay, Will. 29/30 of the women you talk to wouldn't even think about sleeping with you. So you haven't lost any women here, smoker or not.

Posted by Mr. Poe | June 11, 2008 7:24 PM

@20 -

"This is something that has been studied over and over and over again,” Glantz says, his voice rising with exasperation at the fact that people are still calling to ask him whether the economic harm argument is true. “There have been more than 100 places studied. And it has simply never materialized"

It might be an assumption to say that banning smoking increases business, but with as many tests as there have been, I'd say it's an awfully safe bet.

Posted by Chris in Tampa | June 11, 2008 8:15 PM

elenchos, we have 2 things going on here;

1. zero sum game for customers
2. imperfect and unknown information

1. a bar that bans smoking will lose out on all smokers and their competitors will gain them. there is no benefit to being different than anyone else in this situation. Customers genuinely don't have many alternatives to frequenting a non smoking establishment therefore the benefit gained by being non smoking in a sea of smoking establishments is meager.

2. bar owners didn't consider the amount of clientèle they were missing out because the only clientèle they could tangibly measure were those that actually showed up. and there was a measurable amount of people that smoked and drank at the same time opposed to the lack of information about how much non smokers were holding back from going out.

Posted by Bellevue Ave | June 11, 2008 8:27 PM

It's not hurting any bars near my area in Chicago. A lot of them ignore the ban to keep their customers from going a few blocks to Indiana. Now that the warm weather is here, the local cops prefer that customers stay INSIDE the bar to keep "undesirables" (panhandlers, hookers, and minors) from being attracted to the people outside the bar. It's considered the "lesser of 2 evils" It gives new meaning to the term "loitering". Mayor Daley calls the ban "silly". In areas where real crime is a problem, it's really not enforcable.

Posted by Bob | June 11, 2008 8:41 PM

#20, we've been trying.

#28, that's interesting. In Washington, both in Spokane and Seattle that I've noticed, there is a surprising amount of compliance to the ban. Maybe I don't get out much, but I haven't seen any popular bars openly defying the ban.

Posted by w7ngman | June 11, 2008 9:14 PM

@28--Bullshit. We had the same lies here about restaurants not complying with the ban as soon as it was enacted. It was a crock spewed by the last few remaining naysayers of the ban. If you're at a restaurant or bar in Seattle now, and somebody lights up in defiance, every single person in that establishment--staff and customers--will come down hard on them. These bans that are taking place all over the world empower the nonsmokers, which make up a hell of a lot more of the population than smokers. It's these folks that make the bans enforcable--not some two-bit mayor.

Posted by Bull Fighter | June 11, 2008 9:36 PM

The piece that bothers me is that the Indian casinos are exempt. Here in Spokane you can still get your smokey drinky on with a 10 minute drive out to Northern Quest.

Posted by Ryan | June 11, 2008 10:54 PM

Yeah that pesky tribal sovereinty gets in the way of you not smelling like a cigarette when you come home from playing video poker.

What a bunch of fucking whining POS's!

Posted by ecce homo | June 11, 2008 11:35 PM

I'd say it's a bit shallow to argue that the smoking ban has helped bars. You've got small anecdotal evidence, but I'd say that the increase has more to do with the resurgence of a drinking culture that likes bars, and a bad economy (which always boosts sales of vice.

Posted by Causation and Correlation Rock | June 12, 2008 12:00 AM

Some lazy and subjective stat reading there...

Unless I'm missing something, it kinda looks like if you adjust for inflation then the ban did hurt a little bit in 2006.

Maybe dig a little deeper and try to figure out what happened between 2006 and 2007 to cause the real jump?

Also, gross income doesn't necessarily equal profit.

Posted by Postum | June 12, 2008 2:42 AM

The tabacco companies were behind the lies about lost business. They lied and lied every time there was a ban on the ballot and smokers picked up that lie and ran with it.

Posted by Vince | June 12, 2008 6:30 AM

The cigar initiative is dead in the water guys. It took something like 4 tries to get 901 on the ballot. Cigars just don't have the support necessary to collect that many signatures.

Posted by happy renter | June 12, 2008 8:00 AM

@15 - I think you're on to something. Pre-smoking ban, some of the bars I frequented had a mostly non-smoking clientele, while others were populated almost exclusively by smokers.

And honestly, I haven't been able to set foot in the Blue Moon since the ban took effect. Take away the smell of stagnant cigarette smoke and all you're left with is the smell of stale piss emanating from the men's room.

Posted by Hernandez | June 12, 2008 8:43 AM

I don't have a problem with non-smoking establishments. I just don't understand why it has to be ILLEGAL to have places indoors where smokers can congregate. Places of VOLUNTARY assembly.

PS I don't smoke. I just believe in freedom.

Posted by Tim | June 12, 2008 9:10 AM

@25, 29 out of 30? You are being waayyy too generous.

Posted by deeplennon | June 12, 2008 9:23 AM

Freedom isn't immune from the world of externalities and internalization.

Posted by Bellevue Ave | June 12, 2008 9:24 AM

And freedom isn't free.

Posted by joykiller | June 12, 2008 9:31 AM

Freedom's free on a native reservation, but catty comments rule in Seattle.

Posted by Will in Seattle | June 12, 2008 10:21 AM

@ 38 - I thought the same thing but reading here it would seem that by letting certain clubs allow smoking that gives them an unfair advantage at attracting people with addictive personalities. You need to make the ban across all bars and restaurants in order for it to work and it is. I love it. I loved it when I saw it in other states such as Florida and California so I knew it would work here. I think the 25 foot thing is a little excessive. It is funny to see the police constantly complaining to bar owners about people congregating outside the bar. Well, duh!

Posted by Gay Seattle | June 12, 2008 10:31 AM

If gross is up 20% and bar owners are having a hard time turning a profit, then they have bigger issues than the smoking ban.

Posted by Dan Savage | June 12, 2008 10:53 AM

Seems to me that you could relate the increase in profits for bars to the continued time spend under Bush's presidency. Things get shitty, people gotta drink.

Posted by spencer | June 12, 2008 10:57 AM

And, remember, the argument by the anti-ban side was that a smoking ban would ruin the bar and tavern business. Whether or not these states point to correlation or causation, the worst-case-scenario promoted by smokers and their apologists hasn't come to pass. Bar business is booming, for whatever reason, with the smoking ban in place and rather aggressively enforced (save the idiotic 25 foot rule). I know that I go out to bars more now that doing so doesn't mean reeking of smoke after one drink.

Posted by Dan Savage | June 12, 2008 10:57 AM

The only question that should be asked when considering a smoking ban is whether personal property rights are trumped by public health concerns.

That's it. Everything else is bullshit.

Posted by Ryan | June 12, 2008 1:56 PM

I love it when numbers snuff out hysteria.

Posted by SeattleBrad | June 12, 2008 5:32 PM

Hmmm. If revenue is the basis for their arguement then there must be a zillion more cars suddenly appearing at gas pumps all over Washington after traveling increasing number of miles and needing a lot more gas than ever before.

Posted by Sue H. | June 13, 2008 6:10 AM

Sue H. @49:

If revenue is the basis for their arguement [sic] then there must be a zillion more cars suddenly appearing at gas pumps all over Washington ...

I'd point out the abundance of news about the dramatic rise in gas prices and the conspicuous absence of any news about substantial booze inflation, but Sue H. must already know that.  It's the only reason to have made the (false) comparison in the first place.

Was she hoping we just wouldn't notice?

Posted by lostboy | June 13, 2008 8:19 AM

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