If you ask members of the Boone Liberty Coalition, Columbia doesn’t need a smoking ban — most restaurants will prohibit smoking within the next several years anyway.
The coalition, which opposes the proposed ordinance that would ban smoking in most public places, conducted a study that polled more than 220 Columbia restaurants. The study showed that in the past three years, the number of nonsmoking restaurants has increased by 11 percent.
At that rate, more than 80 percent of Columbia restaurants would be nonsmoking in five years. Coalition member John Dupuy said this would leave a small niche market that would cater to the smoking population. He said the figure makes sense because roughly 80 percent of Columbia residents don’t smoke.
“It’s reasonable to assume that, given enough time and enough public awareness, most restaurants will become nonsmoking,” Dupuy said. He said that if the trend doesn’t continue in the next few years, the City Council would always have the option of looking at the issue again.
David Sohl, a member of the Columbia/Boone County Board of Health, said he hasn’t read the study. If it’s accurate, he said, the City Council should pass the ban rather than contest the inevitable.
Sohl said much of the board’s conversation during debate on the bill centered on employee health, but it also took financial concerns into account.
“Any time you go and buy something, healthcare costs go into that,” Sohl said. Employees who suffer problems from secondhand smoke drive up that cost, and restaurant owners pass it on to consumers, he said.
Dupuy said restaurant workers would not be affected because as nonsmoking restaurants increase, it would be harder to find a job at a restaurant that allows smoking. He also said many restaurant workers jump from job to job anyway.
The board finished work on its recommended ordinance last month and sent it to the City Council. The final proposal would not only ban smoking in all bars and restaurants, but also on patios.
Sohl said the board wanted to eliminate the effects of smoking, even in outdoor settings where the impact would be reduced. The board also thought it was a fairness issue.
“It makes it fair for all restaurants,” Sohl said. “Even those that don’t have access to outdoor seating.”
Dupuy said a ban could cause unintended consequences. He said some places such as Grand Cru Restaurant, which offers a humidor but makes less than 50 percent of its revenue from tobacco sales, would be hurt.
“While there may not be an overall economic effect, it would affect businesses that cater to the niche market,” he said.