The mystery when Michigan’s workplace smoking ban takes effect at 6 a.m. Saturday is what will happen.
Will bars and restaurants have their required “No Smoking” signs posted and ashtrays removed? Will smokers be defiant or even confrontational? Will local health departments be deluged with complaints?
Michigan need look no farther than Ohio, which began its ban three years ago, for answers.
In May 2007, the first month of the Ohio ban, local health departments wrote 5,124 tickets against restaurants, bars and workplaces.
Nick and Jimmy’s bar in Toledo wasn’t one of them.
“We have some customers who will just light up out of habit and we throw them out,” said owner Nick Tokles.
It’s a different story a few miles away. Fred Krieger has been fined $8,000 at his Krieger’s Pub. He nearly closed the pub, he said, because he also had a 25% drop in business he blames on the ban.
But Lucas County Health Department officials agreed to cut the fines to $1,000 if he stays clean through January. That’s no slam dunk in the shot and a beer tavern, most of whose patrons are smokers.
“They go into the bathrooms to smoke or behind a curtain,” Krieger said. “We can’t catch them all.”
In Ohio and other states with bans, complaints declined after an initial burst, but some establishments continue to take a calculated risk. At a Chicago bar near the Indiana border, smokers put $5 donations into a jug to help pay anticipated fines.
In Ohio in 2007
On the first day of Ohio’s smoking ban — May 3, 2007 — 189 violations were written against restaurants and bars that let patrons smoke, kept ashtrays on tables or allowed smoke to waft in from the outside.
Bill Delaney got his first violation on May 4. Since then, he has been issued another 54 tickets at Delaney’s Lounge in Toledo.
The 68-year-old, non-smoking, non-drinking Tea Party member hasn’t paid a dime and proudly defies the ban, placing big glass ashtrays across the bar and on every table, and even putting a sign in his front window: “This is a smoking establishment.”
His bartenders smoke, his waitresses puff away. His customers light up while playing video games.
“I figure I’m up to $7,000 to $10,000 in fines,” he said. “We know what it takes to run a business. What are they going to do next, tell me to stop selling Bud Light?”
For the nonsmokers who complain, Delaney has a simple message: “Don’t come to my bar. Or take me to court. Giving up is not in my vocabulary.”
Other owners are cagier about skirting the ban, putting money jars on their bars to help pay fines associated with the ban, or charging a buck or two for ashtray rental.
Still others gamely adhere to the law, even if it’s costing them customers.
“Our revenues have dropped like a rock — we’re down $10,000 a month,” said Fred Krieger, owner of Krieger’s Pub in Toledo. “And the majority of that is from the smoking ban.”
Other establishments embrace the ban. Every morning, employees at Nick and Jimmy’s in Toledo get out the broom and dustpan and sweep up the dozens of cigarette butts in front of the bar and restaurant, dropped by patrons who can’t smoke inside.
“It’s opened our customer base right up,” said owner Nick Tokles.
Some customers fled, Tokles said, but business quickly stabilized. And there has been a pleasant side benefit: Refrigerators, stoves and heating and ventilation equipment are breaking down far less often.
“We don’t have all that tar and nicotine going into the systems,” Tokles said. “We’re saving a lot of money.”
In a few weeks, the outdoor patios, where patrons in Ohio may smoke, will open and the butts will be gone, at least from in front of Nick and Jimmy’s restaurant.
Michigan law will not permit smoking anywhere food or drink is served, including patios. But establishments will be able to direct smoking patrons to outdoor, open-sided smoking huts.
A Free Press assessment shows that Michigan’s new law is tougher than laws in some of the 37 states that have some form of smoking ban — and more lenient than others.
Illinois’ 28-month-old smoking ban is similar to Michigan’s. About 9,000 complaints have been filed — 61% during the first year of the ban and only 742 so far this year.
A test case in Ohio
In Ohio, more than 49,000 violations have been issued, though the pace is slowing. The state has issued $1.1 million in fines, but collected just $472,972 and spent $1.9 million to enforce the ban. The state pays local health departments $115 for just about every smoking ban investigation they do.
The first smoking ban case to go to court — with Ohio trying to collect more than $30,000 in fines from 80 violations against Zeno’s Food and Spirits in Columbus — was a victory for the bar. The judge in Franklin County ruled that it was improper for the state to go after bar owners instead individual smokers.
Placing the burden of enforcing the ban completely on property owners “is ludicrous and defies basic notions of fairness,” Judge David Cain wrote in his ruling.
The state won a stay of the ruling so it can continue enforcing the smoking ban.
“We think the law will be upheld,” said Jen House, spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Health. “Ohio voters approved this in 2006 and we believe this is what they want.”
Bar owners disagree. Many would prefer to pay $250 or $500 a year for a special license that allows for smoking in establishments where alcohol sales are the primary source of revenue. Right now, Ohio’s only exemption is on outdoor patios of bars and restaurants, and specialty tobacco shops. When three casinos open in a couple of years, in Cincinnati, Cleveland and Toledo, the smoking ban also is to apply to them. Michigan’s exemptions include the gaming floors of Detroit’s three casinos, and cigar bars.
“They haven’t fined one individual,” said Krieger. “But they want my little barmaid to go after a 300-pound guy who’s smoking.”
An upside in Illinois
Unlike Michigan, the gaming floors of Illinois’ nine casinos were not exempted from the state’s smoking ban.
Their combined revenues fell 21% in the first year of the smoking ban, said Tom Swoik, executive director of the Illinois Casino and Gaming Association. That trend continued in 2009 and this year, though not as dramatically.
Swoik said the weak economy was partly to blame, but said most of the decrease was because of the smoking ban, which sent some gamblers to Indiana and Missouri casinos where smoking is allowed.
Joe Shanahan owns Metro, one of Chicago’s best-known music halls with a bar near Wrigley Field. He said the ban brought in new, non-smoking customers, and prompted many of his 100 employees to stop or cut back smoking — a change that reduced illnesses.
“I thought at one time it would really affect our business, but I feel it’s helped a little bit,” said Shanahan, an ex-smoker.
BY KATHLEEN GRAY and CHRIS CHRISTOFF
Freep, April 27, 2010