Smoking ban is not the reason some restaurants have gone out of business

Saturday, January 5, 2008 | 5:49 p.m. CST; updated 10:47 a.m. CST, Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Otto’s Bar and Grill is closed. It joins a small number of other failed restaurants that claim Columbia’s smoking ban is solely to blame. And the media appear to be supporting this “Myth of the Smoker,” a slippery-slope campaign of blatant misinformation. The media have failed to make a concerted effort to show whether these businesses were profitable before the city’s action. I can only assume, from observational evidence alone, that they were not, making closure inevitable.

I ask those of the so-called “Smokers Rights” groups to please show me where in the United States or the Missouri constitutions or in city ordinance does it say that our duly elected officials cannot make laws to protect the health of their constituents? Show me where newly proposed legislation, statutes or ordinances must have direct approval of the voters alone. Show me where it is the smoker’s right to whittle away precious personal and tax dollars in unnecessary health care costs. Please, I ask you, show me.

Taverns and restaurants throughout the city are doing just fine with smoking bans in place. Boone Tavern, Flat Branch, Sycamore, Lucy’s, G&D Pizza and the multitude of other establishments throughout the city, the state and the country are surviving profitably without a smoke-hazed environment.

Maybe, just maybe, the poor quality of the food, the company, the service, the location, or just poor business decisions had something to do with these failures. Maybe owners need someone or something else to blame other than themselves and their static business schemes in this new, health-oriented economy. Maybe each had run the course of its business life-cycle, waiting for death. Restaurants and taverns, even those established for decades, live and die at the whim of the eating public and the economy, and they often vanish quickly. Death, like taxes, is inescapable.

The smoking community is angry because city officials recognize the truth: Reducing the burden of increased health insurance premiums and Medicare and Medicaid tax dollars to care for those with cancers and diseases directly and indirectly associated with tobacco usage and affecting the many is beneficial and outweighs the addictive benefits of the few.

The counter argument is that smoking is legal; therefore, smoking should not be banned. However, like alcohol and other legal intoxicants, we need to take a tougher stance on the use and misuse of these drugs. And they are just that: drugs.

What does work is education, stopping our children from taking up this addictive habit while still in short pants. What works is using regulatory authority to limit the use of these “legal” drugs as a public safety and health issue. What works is taking the brave stance, as the City Council has, after public hearing and discussion, to say enough is enough and smoking should not be tolerated in public use establishments within our city.

This ordinance was not done in secret; there were open public hearings. Bill 407-06 was introduced on Sept. 18, 2006. Public comment was accepted on Oct. 9, filling more than 40 pages of posted minutes, plus letters and e-mails sent to council members. Ordinance 019252 was enacted by council vote on Oct. 18. If the smokers failed to make their argument last year, it is no fault but their own. Do not continue to poison us with your whining. Your rights were upheld.

To answer the smoker’s query: What are the justifications of banning smoking in private business? Simple: saving lives and saving the taxpayers’ dollars. Business owners, smokers and columnists who believe that a city ordinance was the reason for business failure and will result in greater loss of our constitutional rights have fallen off the slippery slope. May other municipalities follow Columbia’s example. Clean air and good health are our rights in the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness.

David Rosman is a business and political communications consultant, professional speaker and college instructor in communications, ethics, business and politics. He welcomes your comments at

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John Schultz January 6, 2008 | 1:34 a.m.

Here's hoping that my comments don't disappear like my rebuttal to another Missourian article on the smoking ban, otherwise why even bother allowing comments on articles.

Have all of the businesses that failed done so due entirely due to the smoking ban? Possibly not, but I can't say that and surely Mr. Rosman can't either. He implies that these were all poorly-run businesses that were on the skids, but where is his proof? Do entrepreneurs not have the right to run their business poorly, and then have to close when the free market says their plan wasn't the right one? Of course they do, but they were not operating under the free market when city government decided to ban a legal substance that property owners had the right to allow in their establishments. Two-thirds of Columbia restaurants were smoke-free or allowed smoking only on a patio prior to the ban and that percentage was increasing over time.

Joel Thiel of Otto's has been quoted several times as stating their revenues have dipped 30% when comparing previous year to the Year of the Ban. Do you not believe him? If he showed you the books, would you possibly consider that maybe some businesses have been affected by this decision? Or will you continue to say your way or the highway?

If these businesses were as poorly run as Mr. Rosman believes, why hadn't they gone out of business ages ago? Otto's existed for five years before the smoking ban and one year after. The Bull Pen Cafe's run was much longer. How many non-smoking establishments that were open before the ban have closed since the ban went through? I'm only aware of one, but there could be more I have not heard about.

How do you reconcile that cigarettes can still be sold and smoked in Columbia if the health concerns are so great? Wouldn't Columbia be oh so progressive if it outlawed tobacco completely? Why didn't it take this step to protect everyone in the community? Toward the end of his piece, Mr. Rosman says "What are the justifications of banning smoking in private business?" Indeed, what are the justifications of banning smoking in private homes or automobiles? Is that the type of slippery slope Mr. Rosman could endorse?

The fact of the matter is that smokers and those like me, who do not smoke, that are opposed to the ban are allowed to petition government and make our complaints known (that pesky First Amendment, you know?). If Mr. Rosman or others don't like, that's just too bad.

(Report Comment)
Robert Feal-Martinez January 6, 2008 | 5:22 a.m.

I am staggered at the arrogance of this author. I am in the UK, we had our smoking ban commence in July 1st 2007. At the point the ban came in, year on year by pub/motel was 10% up on the previous year by the end of 2007 that had been wiped out and I am now 10% down. My core business is food and accommodation which is not seasonal. My wet sales represent only 25% of my turn over and yet of the 25% I have lost 20%. I have a large garden patio. The truth is smokers are staying at home. In wet led pubs in the UK people who have no outside areas are losing 30 to 50%, and are starting to close at the rate of 50 a week as against previously 50 a month. The reality whether the reporter likes it or not is smoking customers are not replaced like for like. The average smoke spends £25/night, 4 nights a week, the average diner spends £25/night 1 or 2 days a weeks. Do the maths. As for the press misleading the public, that's a bit rich. RWJF, the charitable arm of Johnson and Johnson, buy the media and the scientists. ASH etal worldwide and many other smoking groups are funded by RWJF who have spent over 1 billion dollars corrupting the science. The pro choice lobby struggle to even get media attention. The fact is smoking bans kill business but do not save lives. FACT.

(Report Comment)
Vince Harden January 7, 2008 | 5:59 a.m.

David Rosman wrote;"What are the justifications of banning smoking in private business? Simple: saving lives and saving the taxpayers’ dollars."

You are not accomplishing either goal.

The preponderance of the evidence shows that there isn't a statistical risk from second hand smoke (aka ETS).The World Health Org. study released in 1998 not only confirms this but also states "There was no association between lung cancer risk and ETS exposure during childhood."

There is not going to be a reduction in health care costs. According to the New England Journal of Medicine,it is nonsmokers,not smokers that are the greater cost to health care.If no one smoked then health care costs would be higher.

(Report Comment)
Ken Hill January 7, 2008 | 7:58 a.m.

Government Will Make Smokers, Children, Families, Sick

I am a life-long non-smoker, who has lost the four most precious people in my life. Cancer was the effect, a consequence, but not the cause. Yet, I will not help to propagandize health into dictatorial policy. I do not wish to repeat the 1930's, 1940's. Do you?

Exactly how can our government "create a healthier society for all" when they betray the smoker's sense of trust, demoralize their self-confidence, disrupt their employer-employee relationships, upheave their family life, and undermind their efficacy by alienating them from their own human nature?

This destructive mind/body dichotomy will subject smoker's to long-term emotional and mental disorders, thus leading to serious physical ailments. In reality, our government is making them sick.

A particularily foreboding feature of the mind/body dichotomy is the government's suffocating negative influence while aggressively restricting young people from making their own decisions. Government aggression will severely jeopardize each young person's struggle to form a necessary sense of self-confidence. This fragile process is usually a traumatic experience, especially when that negative influence is hidden under the misconception of government benevolence.

A benevolent spirit rises above the initiation of force (government legislation), use of scare tactics and spreading of propaganda in order to find solutions.
True benevolence generates a lust for life, which naturally includes a pursuit of truth. False benevolence generates a lust for power, which unnaturally includes a distortion of truth.

In reality, our government lacks the knowledge of the trigger mechanism that sets off most cancers or most other major diseases to then become a critical danger for human beings. It is not smoking, nor second-hand smoke.

In the words of Paul Watson, co-founder of Greenpeace, "It doesn't matter what is true, it only matters what people believe is true." We deserve much greater government responsiblity than these words.

We deserve truth.

(Report Comment)
David Rosman January 7, 2008 | 10:10 a.m.


I am honored with your responses and amazed that I have gone "international."

I need to stress that I mentioned in my article that my data was purely observational, though e-mails I received appear to support my position. One said, "If Joel (the owner of Otto's) was as passionate about customer service as he was about getting the ban overturned, he’d still have his business." I did list a number of examples of successful businesses that some seem to over look.

I owned a restaurant in Denver for four years, before and after a smoking ban went into affect. The ban actually icnreased our business. Unfortunately, our business did fail due to economic restructuring of the neighborhood and an increase in rent we could not afford.

I speak from experience. I voted for my city council. Did you? Mr. Feal-Martinez, you need not answer, it is obvious that you did not vote in Columbia. However, I appreciate your comments, one and all.

David Rosman

(Report Comment)
John Schultz January 7, 2008 | 2:36 p.m.

David, was your restaurant smoking or not when the ban took effect in Denver?

You don't find it a bit odd that all of the restaurants and bars that have closed, with the exception of one that I am aware of (Classy's), allowed smoking? If it's the economy or bad owners, why haven't more non-smoking restaurants failed?

And I did not vote for council, as I (and business owners like Joel Thiel and Betty Hamilton) live in the county. But we still have a right to complain and gripe about decisions made by the city, of crouse.

(Report Comment)
Robert Feal-Martinez January 8, 2008 | 5:25 a.m.

To be honest David I do not understand the significance of the question about voting. I voted in my Town in the UK, and Nationally. In the UK The Government promised there would be choice is hospitality with business owners making a decision, until ASH etal and Big D put the squeeze on and bought off the Government with promises of millions of free drugs. The simple reality is that losing 30 to 50% of your customer base no matter how good an operator you are, that spells bankruptcy.

(Report Comment)

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