Smoking ban lighting up interest in quitting?Published 7:35pm Sunday, June 6, 2010
By AARON MUELLER
Niles Daily Star
When Jason Buchanan, owner of Pete’s Patio in Niles, first heard the state smoking ban had passed at the end of last year, he was certainly concerned about losing business.
But on May 1, the moment of truth, when the ban officially began and all the ash trays were removed from his establishment, Buchanan’s concerns were immediately snuffed out.
“Honestly, we thought there would be a lag in business, but we had a good first day,” he said. “We have not noticed a big dip at all. Customers haven’t had any issues.”
Buchanan added that his business has even attracted a few new customers who couldn’t handle the smoke in the restaurant before the ban.
“I spoke to a couple over the weekend who said they like the pizza but backed off from coming because of the smoke. Now they are coming in more often,” he said.
But that’s not the case for all area business owners.
Gary Koller, who runs B&J Pub in Niles, had similar concerns when the ban was passed and now says the drop in business has been “worse than expected.”
“Business is off,” he said. “You could say considerably off. I have customers who I used to see every day and now don’t see them.”
Koller said an even bigger issue is that the customers who do come do not stay as long, which has cut deep into his sales.
The smokeout has brought in a few new customers, Koller said, “but it’s nowhere near offsetting.”
Koller also has noticed more people leaving the bar to go out for a smoke where they are not buying drinks and can’t legally take their drinks.
Still, Koller says he is hopeful that his customers will return as people get used to the regulation.
Meanwhile, the Berrien County Health Department has to be encouraged with a recent uptick in interest in quitting smoking among county residents.
Kerri Teachout, substance abuse prevention services supervisor for the health department, said since the smoking ban began, the department has seen a 20 percent increase in people looking to join smoking cessation classes or looking for assistance with quitting.
Teachout went short of saying the smoking ban is the reason for the increase in interest.
“It’s hard to place it just on the ban, because when callers are calling they aren’t telling me why they want to quit,” she said. “But there are less places to smoke at and society is leaning toward a smoke-free society.”
Teachout also says the enforcement of the law has been met with very few problems.
“It’s been running very smoothly,” she said. “The Environmental Health Department has taken three or four confirmed complaints throughout the county.”
Most of the calls the department receives are business owners asking questions about the law.
“A lot of people are calling and asking questions and want to be in compliance,” Teachout said.
Teachout credits the 2007 Berrien County smoke-free ordinance as the reason why regulating the state law has been hassle-free.
The county ordinance banned smoking in all work places except bars, restaurants and tobacco stores. The new state law outlaws lighting up in all public places except cigar bars, tobacco shops and the gaming floors of casinos. Indian casinos, like Four Winds in New Buffalo Township, are also exempt.
Health department officials realize some business owners are concerned about the law, so the Tobacco Reduction Coalition will be conducting a study within the next month about the effect of the smoking ban on businesses in the county.
“By September, hopefully, we will have a very good idea what’s happened in the first couple months of the law,” Teachout said.
As smokers find ways to get their fix of nicotine while at the bar, some have turned to electronic cigarettes, which are legal to “smoke” in public places.
These battery-powered devices, which do not contain tobacco, turn nicotine into a vapor that is inhaled by the smoker.
The Berrien County Health Department and the Michigan Department of Community Health do not condone the use of electronic cigarettes.
“We don’t advocate them, because it has not been approved by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration),” Teachout said. “We don’t recognize that as an option to quit.”