Beginning in July 2005, downtown taverns will be smoke-free, much to the dismay of some local business owners.
In a vote of 15-5, the Madison City Council voted early Wednesday morning in favor of an ordinance that bans smoking from all bars and restaurants.
In 2002 the City Council passed an ordinance that prohibited smoking in all workplaces except for venues in which alcohol sales comprised a minimum of 50 percent of their revenue. The new ban, however, does not include any exceptions, and mirrors the large-scale bans already in effect in New York, California and the city of Boston.
Nearly 60 people spoke at Tuesday’s City Council meeting. Restaurant and bar owners insisted that if the ordinance passed their businesses would suffer significantly, and may even be forced to close. Those in favor of the ban advocated its potential health and environmental benefits.
An amendment that would have allowed smoking in taverns between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m., and another that would have exempted tobacco bars from the ban were presented, but neither was approved.
Many of the State Street businesses that permit smoking in their establishments feel the ban is an example of the government overstepping its bounds.
“[The ban is] an intrusion of government into [the] running [of] a business,” Matt Goetsch, manager of State Street Brats, said. “The government should have control over government and public buildings, [but] when the City Council or the government is telling bar owners how to run a bar, it is an intrusion.”
More troublesome to Goetsch, however, is the fact businesses are responsible for enforcing the ban, or will otherwise face fines. Not only will this add to his employees’ responsibilities, but also may lead to confrontations between workers and patrons who insist on smoking.
“[It's going to be a] waste of time for my employees to go around and check if people are smoking,” Goetsch said. “Something that the police don’t want to enforce is going to cause countless confrontations.”
Although neither a bar or restaurant, Knucklehead’s Tobacco and Gifts, a State Street store that specializes in the sale of imported cigarettes and cigars, allows its employees and patrons to smoke in the store. Like Goetsch, employee Steve Agee believes the ban is intrusive.
“It’s almost as if we’re being policed by parents,” Agee said.
Nevertheless, neither Goetsch nor Agee feels the ban will hurt their business.
“The people who come here to smoke, like maybe five serious chain-smokers, will be replaced by five purists who don’t want to be around smoke at all,” Goetsch said. “There’s not going to be a tremendous swing either way.”
After a similar ban went into effect in New York last April, sales in the hospitality industry rose nine percent in the 10 months following the new policy.
Also during that period, the number of restaurant and bar employees reached its highest number in over 10 years. Likewise, California restaurants and bars saw an increase in their tax revenues following the state’s smoking ban in 1998.