On Wednesday morning, Osama Yanis was cutting cucumbers and parsley for the sandwiches he would serve later in the day at Coffee Zone, his restaurant on Ninth Street.
Yanis opened the café in
1995, but three years ago he made an important decision: He barred smoking in his restaurant.
“Before that, it was not a good environment,” Yanis said. “Even the food smelled of smoke.”
Three years later, and at a new location, Yanis said he is satisfied with his choice.
“The whole clientele changed for the better,” he said, adding that his revenue since the change has increased by 20 percent a year.
Owners of other restaurants and bars in Columbia have also decided to ban smoking in the past few years.
Addison’s owner Matthew Jene, for example, decided about a year ago to ban smoking before 10 p.m.
“We thought it would be beneficial for our business,” Jene said, adding that his revenue has also increased. “But I would not attribute it to that.”
The impact of nonsmoking policies on businesses is central to the debate over whether the Columbia City Council should approve a proposed ban on smoking in bars, restaurants and other public places. The council will have a public hearing on the bill at 7 p.m. Monday.
But the impact of a smoking ban on businesses is hard to measure. Business owners often express fear that such a ban would adversely affect their businesses.
“With a smoking ban, we would definitely see people we are not seeing right now,” said Deb Rust, a co-owner of Tellers Gallery and Bar. “But we would also lose customers. I’m not sure the first would balance the second.”
For more than 10 years, studies have been conducted to try to determine whether smoking bans are really affecting businesses’ revenue.
“The tobacco industry has consistently claimed that such measures lead to an approximate 30 percent or greater decline in sales,” said a 2006 report from the U.S. Surgeon General. “However, the industry claims are countered by many studies published during the last decade in the peer-reviewed scientific literature that ... found no evidence of negative impacts.”
Three years after New York became a smoke-free state in March 2003, its Department of Health released a report saying the ban “has not had an adverse financial impact on bars and restaurants.”
Another report issued by the New York City Department of Finance less than a year after the ban was enacted concludes there was a near 9 percent increase in business tax receipts, as well as an increase in employment and liquor licences.
In California, where smoking was banned from restaurants in 1995 and from bars three years later, taxable sales receipts for both kinds of establishments have increased every year from 1997 to 2002, according to data from the California State Board of Equalization.
The question remains, however, whether such results can be attributed to other factors, such as population growth.
“We would like to think that it’s because of the ban,” said Joel Spivak, spokesman of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, a Washington, D.C.-based organization. “But at least, what we can certainly say is that smoking bans have not hurt businesses.”
While many business owners fear smoking bans, others think they have no impact.
“Smoking prohibitions in California, Utah, Vermont, Maryland and Maine, as well as in hundreds of cities all over the country, prove that smoke-free-workplace legislation is good for all businesses, including the restaurant business,” wrote Michael O’Neal, former president of the New York State Restaurant Association, in Nation’s Restaurant News, a professional publication, in 2001. “That shouldn’t be a surprise. Even smokers prefer to breathe clean air.”
That is also what recent polls show. In Columbia, for instance, 85 percent of the 700 people surveyed in an MU study said that they would go to bars as much or more often if a smoking ban were in place. That number reached 93 percent when people were asked whether they would visit restaurants as much or more often. The study, conducted by Kevin Everett, assistant professor of family and community medicine, was released Wednesday.
Those numbers do not, however, reflect the level of support for the smoking ban before the City Council. The same survey showed that only 57 percent supported an ordinance making all indoor areas of bars smoke free; 69 percent supported such bans for restaurants.