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Other resorts say smoking bans have not burned their business

Brent Gardner-Smith

On May 1, the town of Snowmass Village will join a small group of other resort towns in the U.S. and Canada that have banned smoking in bars.

So far, it doesn’t seem to have caused resorts such as Whistler, Mammoth, or Cape Cod any economic hardships, although some bar owners do complain about irate customers, especially Europeans.

But overall, communities that have banned smoking in bars seem not to have suffered a hit to their pocketbooks, and at least one academic study shows it has been an economic boon.

The Snowmass Village Town Council passed its ordinance restricting smoking in all public places, including bars, with little review of policies outside of the resort community. But research may not have swayed them one way or another. Board members emphatically said they considered it a public health issue and that they were putting the ban into place to protect the health of local employees working in bars.

Critics of the board’s action claimed it would hurt tourism, especially among international visitors who are believed to smoke more than your average American. But the experience elsewhere shows that employee health is a key concern.

The state of California has the most aggressive anti-smoking policies in the country. Smoking in any indoor workplace, including bars, was banned on Jan. 1, 1998.

“If you have employees, it has to be smoke-free,” said Dian Kiser of the California Smoke-Free Bar, Workplaces and Communities Program.

No other state in the country has banned smoking statewide, but many towns in Massachusetts have banned smoking in bars, including 11 towns on Cape Cod and all six towns on the island of Martha’s Vineyard.

“The rhetoric has calmed down considerably since the business owners have seen that the ban has not impacted their businesses negatively,” said Robert Collett, director of the Cape Cod Regional Tobacco Control Program.

This spring, the town and island of Nantucket, along with four other towns on Cape Cod, are going to vote on smoking bans. In Massachusetts, the issue is being propelled by a 25-cent tobacco tax that is dedicated to anti-smoking efforts, including a town-by-town effort to pass aggressive smoking bans.

In Colorado, only two other towns have banned smoking in bars – Boulder and Superior, which is a small town about 15 miles from Boulder. Boulder’s law contains a provision which allows a bar owner to install an expensive ventilation system, which Snowmass Village’s law currently does not.

Only a handful of other cities around the country outside of California, Massachusetts and Colorado have banned smoking in bars, including Plano, Texas, and Corvallis, Ore.

British Columbia, where the Whistler resort is located, passed a provincewide ban on smoking in workplaces that went into place in January 2000. The ban was challenged and overturned in court on a technicality three months later, but no bars in Whistler, even though they can now legally do so, have reinstated smoking.

“We used to be one of the smokiest bars in town,” said Don Pashleigh, manager of Tapley’s Neighborhood Pub in Whistler, who doesn’t plan on letting smokers back indoors. “We have a covered, heated patio. It’s turned into a little social club out there.”

Outdoor smoking lounges are becoming common in California as well.

The California experience is proving the tobacco industry wrong in its predictions about economic doom and gloom from smoking bans. Taxable annual sales for bars and restaurants went up 5.6 percent in the year following the smoking ban and went up 8 percent in 1999.

“What we are seeing is an increase in sales, not a decrease,” said Kiser. “There has not been one bar we’ve heard of that has closed because of the smoke-free bar law.”

In regard to alienating visiting European smokers, a study by Professor Stan Glantz of the University of California-San Francisco found that tourism has not been hurt by the smoking ban in a number of different cities.

“This study debunks the tobacco industry allegation that smoke-free restaurant laws adversely affect tourism, including international tourism,” Glantz wrote in a May 1999 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association. “Quite the contrary, implementation of these laws is often associated with an increase in the rate of growth of tourism revenues.

“The result that smoke-free restaurant ordinances did not hurt, and may have helped, international tourism was surprising because of the commonly held belief that Europeans are more willing to tolerate secondhand smoke and less supportive of clean indoor air regulations than are Americans.

“Secret research conducted for Philip Morris in 1989, however, shows that this belief is incorrect. Philip Morris polled 1,000 people in each of 10 European countries and found that smokers were more accepting of smoke-free restaurant ordinances than were Americans.”

A survey of 2,472 European visitors in Mono County, Calif., home of the Mammoth Mountain ski area, found that only 17 percent of them smoked and that 74 percent of them preferred a smoke-free environment.

“Where several years ago it was more of a problem, currently they accept that most of the places are smoke-free,” said Jeff Byberg of the Mammoth Mountain Inn, which runs two bars.

That’s not to say that individual bar owners don’t hear from their international clientele.

“I’ve been cursed in many different languages when I told foreign tourists they couldn’t smoke in the bar,” said one respondent to the Mono County survey.

And according to Bruce Potter, the director of member services at the Massachusetts Restaurant Association, some bars are definitely losing business.

“Marblehead, which is a tourist area, passed a law in October,” Potter said. “The bars are getting killed up there.”

Aspen, which passed one of the earliest indoor smoking regulations in the country, now finds itself behind Snowmass Village on the issue. And it seems comfortable in that position.

“It’s currently not on our radar screen,” said Tom McCabe, Aspen city councilman. “I think we have it reasonably well regulated.”

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Posted: Tuesday, February 27, 2001


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