The great Michigan smokeoutPublished 9:00am Wednesday, April 14, 2010
By JESSICA SIEFF
Niles Daily Star
Inside The Tavern on a sunny Friday afternoon there are a handful of patrons sitting at the bar and restaurant’s booths, sinking their teeth into hamburgers and dipping french fries into ketchup.
It’s the quiet hour. By 6 p.m., things will start to get busier. There will likely be more seats filled at the bar and some customers will sit down to an ice-cold beer with a freshly lit cigarette in hand.
To smokers, such a thing might sound commonplace. To nonsmokers, it might sound awful.
Either way, it’s a sight that will soon be no more.
The statewide smoking ban that passed into law earlier this year will take effect May 1 and businesses like The Tavern will be forced to send their smokers outside.
“Most people know it’s coming,” said Lou Thwaits, owner of The Tavern for the past 30 years.
She’s not necessarily happy with the smoking ban and she said her opinion is shared by many.
“My customers are not happy at all,” she said.
The Michigan Department of Community Health (MDCH) announced in a statement earlier this month that it has already kicked off a public service announcement campaign to raise awareness on the indoor smoking ban. The PSA, “Smoked Lasagna,” will run in partnership with the Michigan Association of Broadcasters and the Michigan Cable Telecommunications Association.
“It’s exciting to begin this new era in Michigan where going out to dinner won’t mean being exposed to secondhand smoke for patrons or for employees,” said Janet Olszewski, MDCH director. “This is good news for all Michigan citizens.”
Smoking bans are nothing new. They’ve been instituted in South Bend as far out as New York City.
But their impact on local businesses, especially bars, is significant.
“I think it’s going to create a lot of problems,” Thwaits said.
Not only might the ban deter some customers from coming out at all, but those who do will have to step outside when they want a smoke.
“Traffic,” Thwaits said. “In and out. People going out with their drinks – you have to police that.”
Depending on how bad the problem could get, she said she may have to look into finding someone just to man the door.
It’s the threat of more people choosing to stay home and smoke rather than come out and drink that could serve as what would only be yet another hit to a struggling industry.
The economy would have been the first one.
“It’s hurt, yes,” Thwaits said. “It has hurt.”
Utility and gas costs have increased and some customers have been cutting back all of which can take a hit to a business’ bottom line.
She estimates that two thirds of her customers are smokers and on a Friday night things inside can get pretty busy.
A former smoker, Thwaits is aware of the health concerns that have driven bans like Michigan’s.
“I’m realistic,” she said. “I know one cigarette pollutes the air.”
Still, she said the issue comes down to freedom of choice.
“Why can’t I decide if I want my customers to smoke or not,” she said.
In 30 years, she’s has seen things change a lot.
Come May 1, they’re going to change again.