Smoking Foes Hail City Ban As Model

In State News on June 1, 2009 at 9:10 am

From the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette:

Smoking foes hail city ban as model, Stats counter claims it kills bars, eateries

Two years after its inception, Fort Wayne’s comprehensive smoking ban is being touted across the state. While the debate over prohibiting smoking hasn’t been completely snuffed, city officials said there is little chance it will be rescinded and other groups hope to expand it to other communities or statewide.

Smoking was outlawed in nearly all of Fort Wayne’s public indoor workplaces, including restaurants and bars, June 1, 2007. Since then, bar owners have accused the ban of hurting an already struggling industry, but tax data show the ban has had little to no influence on the willingness of Allen County residents to go out to eat and drink. In fact, it appears the ups and downs of the hospitality industry have more to do with the general economic climate than any smoking prohibitions.

Allen County’s food and beverage tax – a 1 percent tax on all food and drink purchased at restaurants and bars – has closely mirrored a similar tax in Marion County, and the total collections across the state over the past three years. While Allen’s total collections were far less than those in the higher-populated Marion County, the ups and downs were fairly similar in terms of percentages. Marion County allows smoking in bars and restaurants that only serve adults.

For example, in 2007 Allen saw a 4.3 percent increase in collections over 2006. Over that same time, Marion County had a 3.99 percent increase. A worsening economy sent those tax collections tumbling in 2008. They fell 2.9 percent in Marion County, but only dipped a minimal 0.04 percent in Allen County last year.

The Allen County tax statistics include receipts from restaurants and bars across the county, including those outside Fort Wayne where smoking limits are much less restrictive. The vast majority of restaurants and bars in Allen County are in Fort Wayne, however.

The local tax statistics appear to corroborate a broader study by Ohio State University on smoking bans. The study examined employment trends in eight Minnesota cities between January 2003 and September 2006. The cities had varying degrees of smoking bans.

“In the end we can say there isn’t a significant economic effect by type of clean indoor air policy, which should give us more support for maintaining the most beneficial public health policies,” said Elizabeth Klein, lead author of the study.

According to the study, there were only small changes in employment levels in bars and restaurants. The changes weren’t large enough to determine that any increases or decreases were statistically significant. The study concluded that bars do not need to be exempted from smoking bans to protect against a severe downturn in the economy.

But statistics don’t ease everyone’s concern, said City Councilman Tom Didier, R-3rd. The lone council opponent to the city’s smoking ban said most people now accept the law, but he believes it has hurt several small neighborhood bars. Didier said 36 bars in Fort Wayne have closed since the ban took effect and few have opened within the city limits in that time. Didier said some bars may have closed even if a ban weren’t in place, but it just added on to other factors, such as a falling economy.

“Smoking was definitely the last nail in the coffin,” he said.

Didier said customers should have had the choice whether to dine at smoking establishments, but he doesn’t anticipate the council will examine rescinding the ban. The council last year refused to even discuss exemptions to the ban.

But if the tax collections indicate the overall industry isn’t failing, that means some bars and restaurants have been able to succeed under the new rules, said Tim Filler, spokesman for Smoke Free Indy, the group pushing for a comprehensive ban in Indianapolis and statewide.

“Businesses succeed and fail all the time,” he said, noting smoking bans were being used as a scapegoat for unsuccessful businesses.

State excise officer John Barchak talks with bar owners daily, and said some are adapting to the change. Many are looking at adding family rooms to try to increase their food business. Others across the city have added large outdoor patios. Smoking is permitted outside at bars and restaurants so long as customers are 8 feet from the entrance and the outdoor customers must enter and exit through the building.

“A lot of the businesses have evolved to keep up with the times,” Barchak said.

Smoking has had some effect on bar businesses, but Barchak said a crackdown on illegal gambling in 2005 also hurt the industry. On top of that, he said fewer people go out to drink as more people buy alcohol to entertain guests at home.

Former City Councilman John Crawford, who wrote Fort Wayne’s ban, said the Ohio State study is further evidence that smoking bans are not large economic burdens. He lobbied the state this year to adopt a bill to enact a statewide ban similar to the one in Fort Wayne. He said he pushed as hard as he could, but casinos and other groups lobbied against the ban as being harmful to business. Filler said his goal is to use Fort Wayne’s ban as an example of success to change the smoking policies in Indianapolis and across the state.

“It’s safe to adopt smoking laws,” he said. “If employment drops or increases, it’s more an impact of the economy.”

The author of the bill calling for a statewide smoking ban, however, said anti-smoking groups will have to learn to compromise to make any ground. Rep. Charlie Brown, D-Gary, said smoking opponents turned out to be his worst enemy because they wanted a full ban or nothing.

“You rarely get all you want,” he said. “You have to do things incrementally.”

Brown said he was most compelled by a study showing Indiana spent $390 million on secondhand-smoke related illnesses in 2007. Brown said he plans to reintroduce the proposal next year, but he said it is unlikely to get approval in a short session, especially because it’s an election year. A statewide smoking prohibition proposal was weakened to exempt bars, casinos and small, family-owned businesses before it died in the legislature this year.

Crawford is even less optimistic about a statewide ban, saying Hoosiers might be the last to adopt such a law.

“It’s the future, but the future comes hard in Indiana,” he said.

Here is a look at food and beverage taxes in Allen County, Marion County and across Indiana for the past three years in millions of dollars.


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