No Country for Bar Smoking

Much like Argentina, a host of U.S. states, parts of Australia, Italy, France, Britain, and Austria among others, Spain has now joined the league of countries legally prohibiting tobacco smoke within bars. Other countries like Belgium are less restrictive, only prohibiting smoking in bars where food is served. Some countries like Germany struggle to enforce smoking bans in bars. Undoubtedly, cigarette smoke is a scourge that societies have good mind to seek to eliminate. Yet, despite the widespread growth of these types of laws domestically and internationally, there remains uncertainty whether there might be other less restrictive alternatives that might be explored.
The impact on bar business owners is a significant justification for examining alternatives. However, it is alleged by proponents that business owners were not hurt in the long run by similar laws elsewhere in Europe. (Al Goodman, Smoking at Spanish Restaurants, Bars Banned, http://www.cnn.com/2011/WORLD/europe/01/01/spain.smoking/index.html?hpt=Sbin). However true this may be, why should bar owners be subjected to the conceded short-term harm? The question is answered simply by contending bar goers should not be subject to second hand smoke against their will. The short-term harm to bar owners is outweighed by the long-term harm of second hand smoke. Presumably, if smoking preferences remain entirely consensual among bar owners, there will be little efficacy in policies aimed to remove second hand tobacco smoke from the lungs of bar goers at a rate any faster than decreases in bar aged smokers generally.
Nevertheless, some bar goers quite clearly prefer to go to bars where they are allowed to smoke. Many of these bar goers would likely be more than willing to congregate in a smaller proportion of local bars if presented with the prohibitive alternative of smoking outdoors. These bar goers might plead as a matter of consistency that those activities which one is legally entitled to do in a city street, one should also be allowed to do in, albeit restricted, enclosed, public venues.
To accommodate the respective interests at hand, I propose that government’s should adopt an “ashtray tax” alternative, whereby all bars allowing smoking will face an additional tax. Bars will then have a financial incentive to stop allowing smoking, while those bars preferring to cater specifically to smokers will be able to service this type of clientele, lessening the short term blow some bar owners are likely to feel disproportionately to others. The tax could be raised progressively with time much like tobacco sales taxes nationally to continue the downward push against tobacco use.
Another alternative might be to require bars to apply for smoking licenses. Using this method, cities could restrict the number of bars allowing smoking and could charge fees for the licenses at progressive rates over time.

4 comments

  1. Florida proposed a similar solution to banning smoking to what the author suggests. It does not permit smoking inside unless the bar is a private facility. They then made the license for receiving a private club more easily obtainable, so many bars were able to continue simply by charging a “fee” or keeping a list of their clientele (running their “private” business however they want). As this was passed many years ago, the result has been that many of the private, smoking bars have since gone out of business, and the ones without inside smoking have increased. (Florida also has the advantage of being able to more easily send smokers outdoors.) This seems to be similar to the above situation and a “best of both worlds” for bar owners and patrons alike.

  2. In the struggle to reduce the risks of second hand smoke – we must not also forget the impact to the bar worker. Bar workers such as bar tenders and wait staff rely on these jobs for their livelihoods. Further, given the nearly worldwide financial crisis, there are fewer available jobs. Therefore, bar workers have less choice in their employment venue and less ability to choose smoke free work locations. Essentially, in this day of financial difficulty, bar workers typically must take the jobs that they can get. In contrast, the bar owner is interested in maximizing profits for his business, including opening the doors to the widest demographic, smokers included.

    In addition to protecting the patrons of bars and restaurants, the smoking bans serve the additional interest of protecting the bar worker. This is particularly important given the limited employment options that are available during the financial crisis. A study of 11 countries that have implemented smoking bans, commissioned by the Institute of Medicine, found overwhelming evidence that implementation of smoking bans reduced the risk of heart attack in all countries. (Pam Belluck, Smoking Bans Reduce Heart Attacks and Disease, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/16/science/16smoke.html).

    Although giving both bar owners and bar patrons choice in the environments they choose to offer and frequent is ideal, legislation that protects workers, and the public at large, from the known, extensive health consequences of smoking plays an important and proven role in reducing the negative health consequences of smoking.

  3. I remember when smoking was first banned in bars in New York although I am not a smoker the combination smell of cigarette smoke and alcohol was missed by my friends and I, mostly because that very distinctive smell reminded us of fun we had in college. However, when I think about it more objectively I am glad that we are no longer bombarded by the overpowering cloud of smoke that used to hang in the air in bars. I agree that long term effects of breathing in the high volume of smoke that one can be subjected to in bars where smoking is allowed, does outweigh the initial economic loss felt by bar owners. People will continue to frequent bars and either adapt to going outside to have a cigarette or maybe even have the addiction to smoking while drinking broken or at least lessened. However, in countries where smoking is more prevalent than the US perhaps a tax or licensing process as suggested above would be more appropriate. This would allow people for whom having a cigarette was an important part of a night out to still partake while protecting those that would rather not be subjected to the second hand smoke.

  4. I’ve got to disagree with the author on this one. An ashtray tax will still result in an unnecessary number of non-smokers being subjected to second hand smoke and the many ailments that come with it. Here’s why: Many groups of friends have at least one smoker among them. In an effort to accommodate that friend, the entire group will feel pressured to go to bar that allows smoking. Why wouldn’t the non-smoking friends just tell the smoker to quit so they could all enjoy a non-smoking bar? Because it remains un-cool and intrusive to tell others not to smoke. Smoking, for whatever reason, has retained its somewhat “cool” allure, meaning that anyone telling another not to do it is a) somehow un-cool for telling them not to, and b) uncool for involving themselves in another’s personal choices. Therefore, the likely result when it comes time to choose a bar is that all the non-smoking friends, in an effort to seem relaxed, accomodating, and not un-cool, will say to the smoking friend, “Nah man… it’s all good. We can hit up the smoking bar.” The smoking bar owner, having paid his ashtray tax, now gets the benefit of a group of drinkers, even though only one of them smokes. This hurts the non-smoking bars in the wallet, and by appearing less full. The solution? Keep those bans a’ comin’.
    – Uncool

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