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Will the Smoking Ban Help or Hurt Business at Bars?

Deborah Wang
01/25/2006

King County public health officials say there has been widespread compliance with the state’s new smoking ban. The department has received complaints about possible violations in only about 150 establishments, that’s out of thousands of bars and restaurants in the county. So far the department has issued no fines. Health officials are confident that cleaner air will bring more business into bars and restaurants. But some bar owners aren’t so sure. KUOW’s Deborah Wang reports.

THE SIREN TAVERN IN THE CITY’S SODO DISTRICT WAS ONE OF THOSE PLACES SMOKERS USED TO FEEL AT HOME. ON ANY GIVEN NIGHT, MORE THAN HALF OF THE CLIENTELLE WOULD HAVE CIGARETTES IN HAND. SINCE THE SMOKING BAN WENT INTO EFFECT, OWNER CONNIE LONGRIE SAYS SHE APPRECIATES THE CLEANER AIR, BUT SHE IS NOT HAPPY THAT MANY OF HER CUSTOMERS ARE STAYING AWAY.

LONGRIE: “Some of them who used to come in and stay for a couple of hours visit with their friends might come in and have two, go outside and have a cigarette and just not stay much later. Because they are going to go home and sit where they can smoke.”

LONGRIE ESTIMATES BUSINESS IS DOWN 15 TO 20 PERCENT. PUBLIC HEALTH OFFICIALS HAD PREDICTED THE SMOKING BAN WOULD HAVE A POSITIVE EFFECT ON BUSINESS. THEY SAY THAT IN EVERY CITY THAT HAS ENACTED A SMOKING BAN, BARS AND RESTAURANTS HAVE SEEN AN INCREASE IN CUSTOMERS, WHO ARE DRAWN TO THE CLEANER AIR. ROGER VALDEZ IS THE MANAGER OF KING COUNTY’S TOBACCO PREVENTION PROGRAM.

VALDEZ: “If a business has experienced the loss of a few of their smoking clients, I can assure them that eventually, those smoking clients will be replaced either by the same people who come back and realize, I’m just going to have to put up with it, or whole new groups of people who say, hey now I can go to this bar. That I couldn’t go to before.”

BUT AT THE SIREN TAVERN, OWNER LONGRIE BEGS TO DIFFER.

LONGRIE: “Right now I have not heard of one bar that is doing better because of this.”

AND SHE DOESN’T THINK HER BLUE-COLLAR BAR WILL ATTRACT MANY NON-SMOKERS. AT LEAST NOT RIGHT AWAY.

LONGRIE: “So you know like you say in the long term are you going to get those people. The problem is can you make it through that long term, is it going to take 2 years, and what happens to these businesses in the meantime.”

SO LONGRIE IS HEDGING HER BETS. SHE HAS SPENT $2000 BUILDING A SMOKING SHACK IN HER BACK COURTYARD TO KEEP HER CURRENT CUSTOMERS HAPPY, AND SHE IS HOPING THAT THE HARD CORE SMOKERS WILL COME BACK WHEN THE WEATHER TURNS WARMER. DEBORAH WANG, KUOW NEWS.

© Copyright 2006, KUOW
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