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Archive for Thursday, July 31, 2003

Good business?

July 31, 2003

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If Lawrence restaurant and bar owners are convinced that going smoke-free is good business, there would be no need for a city-enforced smoking ban.

In almost every situation, it's nicer to have volunteers than to have to issue an order to accomplish a goal.

That's the choice Lawrence and many other communities are facing as they consider whether to ban smoking in certain public places. Should the city commissioners pass a city ordinance to ban smoking in local bars and restaurants, or should they let the demands of the marketplace dictate smoking policies?

A city task force has been asked to look at what other communities are doing and present a range of possibilities along with pros and cons for city commissioners to consider. Lawrence wouldn't be the first city to begin a smoking ban in restaurants and bars, and there surely are lessons to be learned from communities that have experienced such a ban.

Some of that experience can come from New York City where restaurants and bars went smoke-free in March. Enacting such a ban in a city the size of New York would be a daunting task, but it appears the measure may be gaining converts.

According to figures released last week by the New York State Department of Labor and passed along by a New York-based anti-smoking group, New York City bars and restaurants added almost 10,000 new jobs between March and June. Although retail sales figures for that period aren't available yet, the increased employment would indicate that the restaurant and bar business is strong. Some advocates in New York are reporting that employees are happier and healthier and the smoking ban hasn't affected their bottom line.

Some Lawrence businesses already are testing that theory. Many family-type restaurants in Lawrence have been smoke-free for many years, but a couple of restaurants that cater more to an evening, adult crowd also are testing the waters. According to a story in Wednesday's Journal-World, the smoke-free experiment at Marisco's, 2421 W. Sixth St. , and Bella Lounge, 925 Iowa, is working out well from a business perspective.

Obviously, that's what is important to a business owner. If a smoking ban drives away customers and reduces revenue, it's bad business. If it meets a consumer demand and attracts customers, it's good for the bottom line. It's as simple as that.

People who would like to dine or have a drink in a smoke-free setting probably don't care how such a ban is instituted. It really doesn't matter to them whether the city passes and enforces an ordinance or a restaurant owner makes a business decision to go smoke-free.

It would be great if this decision could be left to individual Lawrence business owners rather than having to become a public policy issue that would require city oversight. It would allow businesses to make their own choices and institute their own policies. If the businesses that are trying a smoke-free environment find that it benefits their employees and their customers, it probably won't be difficult to entice other restaurants and bars to follow suit.

As noted, such voluntary action is preferable to a legal edict about any day of the week.

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