Archive for Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Restaurant owner chats online about smoking ban

April 21, 2004


Moderator: Welcome, everybody. Chuck Magerl will begin taking your questions in just a couple of minutes.

Carrie, Lawrence: Given the mountain of irrefutable research condemning smoking and second hand smoke, how do you PERSONALLY rationalize freedom of choice and personal rights arguments against the smoking ban?

Chuck Magerl: As was mentioned by several commissioners last night, there are reputable studies reporting connections or null results on most of the major concerns of cancer, heart disease and major respiratory illness. When I reviewed the specific concerns for my employees, the multiple studies that I drew from suggested the possibility of one incident of lung cancer among our non smoking employees for every 949 years we are in business. As they taught us in pre-med classes, the poison is in the dose, and the dosage level in our business is rather low.

Allison, Lawrence: I tend to think that smokers who drink are generally some of the best "regulars" for a bar establishment. If a smoking ban is voted in, do you see any alternatives for our future? Could you see a separate "smoking room" with additional ventilation just for those customers, while not harming other patrons with second-hand smoke?

Chuck Magerl: The relationship between tobacco smoking and social drinking is certainly a strong connection. While nearly 80 percent of the adults in Lawrence are not smokers, the customers at bars and restaurants in the later evening hours are nearly a reverse of that proportion. Whether non smokers are simply not interested in the bar lifestyle of late night Lawrence, or if they have been discouraged because of the nuisance of smoke is the question that bar owners are bracing themselves to find out. Most of the bars in Lawrence could probably not retrofit themselves to include a designated smoking room, though I know that's the push for many bars in New York. They are hoping to get that option extended by the State.

Kylie, San Francisco: Chuck, your fears for your business are understood. However, as a person who now lives in San Francisco (smoking ban has been in effect here for years), if the entire town bans smoking then ALL businesses will still be on equal ground.

Chuck Magerl: As you may know, there was only one citation in the first year of the ban in San Francisco, as many, if not most of the bars ignored the ban, especially in the later hours of the evening. In fact, the first enforcement issue in the city came as an "unfair business practice" charge brought by one bar against another. The bar that was complying felt at a disadvantage compared with those that were essentially doing business as usual. One of the health studies regarding bartender smoke exposure reported that 55 percent of the bars continued to have smoking allowed.

Scott, Lawrence: I'm assuming that you are pleased with the outcome of last night's commission meeting. If the majority votes for some sort of ban, is there a version that you would support?

Chuck Magerl: The results of last night's meeting were what I had expected, and there were parts that I was pleased with. In part I agree with Boog that there are no compromise positions that wouldn't leave someone's business on the short end of the stick. I would not object to the Ames Iowa model (smoking restricted by hours), though it would not fly well with the folks at Stu's Midtown, the American Legion, the bowling alley, or many other examples.

B. Weber, Topeka: My daughter, who lives in Lawrence, has cancer caused by secondhand smoke she was exposed to while working in restuarants from age 16 to 28. Would you still be in favor of workplace smoking if this was your daughter, wife, mother or grandchild?

Chuck Magerl: I have all those relations except the grandchild, and I certainly am sorry for the grief you must be experiencing. If indeed her illness was caused by her work exposure, I would urge you to seek remedy and compensation through the insurance coverage that her employers carry.

Marion, Lawrence: Chuck, how do you believe that we who oppose the smoking ban should best organize?

Chuck Magerl: There are several communities that have a certain commonality with Lawrence that have experienced the referendum process in the past year or two. Like anything in life, it's important to learn from mistakes, but it's best to learn from other's mistakes. The need to coordinate the effort from now until November will be a grand challenge, and a core of dedicated individuals with a good sense of humor will be crucial.

Brian, Topeka: As a business owner, what are the liability and ADA compliance issues you face by allowing your employees to be exposed to second hand smoke?

Chuck Magerl: The ADA refers to the American's with Disabilities Act that speaks to the need for acceptable accomodation for individuals with defined disabilities. People suffering respiratory distress are often cited in this concern. I know that litigation has been suggested on this question, though it has not been advanced in any court decision at this point.

Adam, Lawrence: Does your staff at Free State receive complaints from non-smoking customers about others smoking in your restaurant?

Chuck Magerl: As you may know, as managers, our job is to respond to complaints and to anticipate problem areas before they manifest as a customer complaint. We receive concerns about issues all across the spectrum: the disconcerting color of the ceiling, the sound of running water in the pond in the dining area, the cries of young children at the next table, the piercings of the body parts of some customers, and yes, the presence of smoke in dining areas. Those concerns are very legitimate, and as a non smoker, I find the smoke a nuisance at times. I've prepared the process to install an advanced ventilation and filtration sytem in the front of the house if the action of the commission does not go forward.

R.G., Lawrence: The Republic of Ireland, New York and California all have smoking bans for restaurants and bars. Even France is considering it. Does it appear to you that history is on course to make smoking socially unacceptable?

Chuck Magerl: History is a funny thing. As you may know, Kansas prohibited tobacco from 1906 until 1923, a portion of the Carry Nation legacy. At that time, people thought the country was on the threshold of a new era of perfection in society. Things didn't really continue in that direction, and I'm not sure that we should count on it this time around either.

Moderator: That's all the time we have. Thanks to everyone who participated, and apologies to those whose questions weren't answered. You can find more coverage of the smoking ban issue in Thursday's Journal-World.

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