Kansas legislators discussed and examined various statewide smoking ban proposals for years before approving such a ban in the 2010 session. The law they passed has been in effect only six months. It’s way too soon to declare it a failure.
Last week, Rep. Brenda Landwehr, R-Wichita, announced that she will promote a bill that repeals the ban that took effect on July 1 prohibiting smoking in restaurants, bars, workplaces and other indoor public spaces. The ban, she says, has been hard on business, especially the bar business.
Her plan is to replace the current law with a statewide law that mirrors a Wichita city ordinance that allows smoking in businesses that pay a fee and build separate rooms with special ventilation systems. However, Landwehr’s plan not only ignores the proven health hazards of smoking and secondhand smoke, but it is also unfair to many of the businesses she supposedly is trying to help.
Large chain restaurants and drinking establishments would be far more likely to have the space and financial means to pay the smoking fee and build a separate ventilated space. As one Lawrence bar owner pointed out, meeting the Wichita ordinance’s requirements to allow smoking would be unrealistic for his business and most other small establishments. If allowing smoking gives a business a competitive advantage, the Wichita law would give an unfair advantage to larger businesses.
The impact of a smoking ban on businesses has been debated in Lawrence ever since a city ordinance instituting such a ban went into effect in 2004. Sales tax receipts have been used as evidence that the ban hasn’t hurt local bars and restaurants, but some owners say otherwise. In the highly competitive Lawrence bar scene, it’s hard to know how much of a business swing to blame on the smoking ban and how much might be attributed to other factors.
For a great many Lawrence residents and visitors the city’s smoking ban has been a welcome change. Whatever impact it has had on local businesses has to be weighed against the health benefits of eliminating secondhand smoke. There’s also the possibility that business at some local establishments has actually improved because patrons appreciate a smoke-free environment.
Landwehr makes a valid point that state legislators were hypocritical in exempting state-owned casinos from the smoking ban, but a better way to solve that problem is to include the casinos, not drop the rest of the ban.
Lawrence’s experience has shown that, despite some initial concerns, a law that bans smoking in most public places can work. Legislators need to give the statewide ban a chance.