The Cost of Going Smokeless

March 19, 2002

Since a ban on smoking in Bowling Green, Ohio, restaurants was enacted New Year's Day, dining room traffic has fallen off noticeably at Myles' Pizza Pub, according to assistant manager, Patrick Tinker.

"We're losing customers. Our business is affected more than others around here," Tinker said. "Our inside trade has dropped about 20 percent."

Tinker may wish his boss's restaurant was in North Carolina, where patrons of Elizabeth's Pizza in Greensboro are allowed to smoke. Owner Mario Pugliese approves of this, not necessarily because he's a proponent of smoking, but because accommodating every customer is important to him.

"People's habits are not going to change for my pizza, especially when they can drive to a different pizza place where they can smoke," said Pugliese.

About 70 percent of Elizabeth's customers don't smoke, but in a highly competitive industry, he's not about to risk offending the other 30 percent. To serve the desires of both groups, he reserved the bar for smokers and the dining room for non-smokers.

"(E)verybody (in Greensboro) has a smoking area," Pugliese said. "If we made (our restaurant) nonsmoking, we'd lose business."

States' Rights

North Carolina hasn't passed anti-smoking legislation, and given it's the nation's top tobacco-producer, it likely won't soon.

California, on the other hand, banned smoking in restaurants three years ago -- seven years after Los Angeles-based California Pizza Kitchen prohibited it system-wide. According to Sarah Goldsmith, senior vice president of marketing and public relations for the 130-store chain, the ban did nothing to snuff out sales.

"I can tell you business continues to increase since we made the decision," said Goldsmith, who added that CPK doesn't allow smoking in outside seating either.

Goldsmith credited CPK's founders with going smokeless in order to protect employees as well as non-smoking customers. "It goes back to what our philosophy is as a business. Taking care of employees is extremely important."

Pizza Hut has not enforced a nationwide ban and has no plans to. Spokesperson, Julie Hildebrand, said each franchisee sets smoking regulations for each store, and that the chain has found no evidence to indicate whether smoking bans hinder or help sales.

Mark Martin, spokesman for the California Restaurant Association, said his state's smoking prohibition has not hurt the restaurant industry.

"It was good for the industry," said Martin. "It's sustained its patrons, and it's good to protect employees in the industry."

City Government

While no other state has a complete ban on smoking in restaurants, multiple municipalities in New York, Colorado, Massachusetts, Arizona, Texas and Minnesota have passed nonsmoking ordinances. New York City's ban went into effect in January of 1995, but appears to have had no negative effect.

Smoke Signals

From the Coalition for Clean Air...

* According to the National Cancer Institute, 70 percent of all smokers want to kick the habit, and most would accept smoke-free policies. Additionally, according to surveys of more than 8,000 smokers in California, New York, Wisconsin and Texas, most smokers do not stop patronizing restaurants when they ban smoking.
* A 1993 report published by the Journal of the American Medical Association, table servers have a 50-90 percent increased risk of lung cancer that is most likely caused by restaurant tobacco smoke.
* According to a 1995 Consumer Reports story, non-smokers exposed to tobacco smoke in a very smoky bar had 10 times more NNK (a metabolic product of a tobacco carcinogen) in their urine than before their exposure to the smoke.
* According to the Saskatchewan Institute on Prevention of Handicaps, tobacco smoke contains more than 4,000 chemicals, including carbon monoxide, nicotine, tar, ammonia, arsenic, cyanide and lead.

In Maryland, a non-smoking ban bill H.B. 29 was introduced to the state's General Assembly on Jan. 9, by Barbara Rush, D-Beltsville. The bill would ban smoking in all restaurants and taverns, including bars in restaurants, motels and hotels.

Melvin R. Thompson, director of government relations for the Restaurant Association of Maryland, said the industry wants no part of the bill.

"Of course we're opposed to that," Thompson told the Baltimore Business Journal in January. "I can't imagine why they would even consider voting for this."

Referring to a workplace smoking ban that was enacted in 1995, Thompson said legislators feared locals would drive to nearby Washington, D.C. to dine out if the non-smoking boom was lowered in restaurants and bars.

"The General Assembly realized then that it would be a problem, that it would be an economic burden particularly near the D.C. border, where it would be easy for people to just go across the border and smoke," Thompson said.

Myles' Tinker said that's exactly what's happening at his restaurant; some of his customers leave the city limits to eat pizza and drink where they can smoke.

Faced with the fact that the smoking ban won't change any time soon, Tinker said Myles' may add a room for smokers only. Having to spend the money to adjust, he said, is not ideal, but that may be what the company has to do to bring its smoking customers back.

"Regular restaurants around here are already making plans to build additions," said Tinker. "Especially in a college town (home to Bowling Green State University), after our customers have been in a bar, they want pizza and want to smoke."

T. Jerry Williams, president and CEO of the North Carolina Restaurant Association believes the choice of whether to allow smoking should be left up to operators.

"It's our position that the people who pay the rent and the people who lose money when people don't go into a restaurant should make that decision," said Williams, adding that most of the state's restaurants currently have smoking and nonsmoking sections. "If you are going after the family market, then you might be less inclined to allow or have smoking. But if you are going after the adult group and beer-and-wine sales, then in some instances a lot of those customers want to be able to smoke."

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