Five months after Michigan’s controversial smoking ban took effect, bar owners are rallying statewide to reverse a law they say is killing business. A group called Protect Private Property Rights in Michigan-Amend Michigan Smoking Ban has about 3,000 members and has led a lottery boycott on Fridays.
The group — and others complaining about the bill — point to records showing Club Keno sales have shrunk $21.5 million during the first three months of the ban, while liquor sales at bars and restaurants are down $1.8 billion.
“Small independent bars are really suffering. Some say they are being forced to close their doors,” said Lance Binoniemi, executive director of the Michigan Licensed Beverage Association.
The group has been taking surveys of sales at bars and restaurants since the ban. The Private Property Rights group is trying to become a nonprofit and hopes to hire a lobbyist to fight to change the law.
Foes of the ban, which took effect May 1, point to bars such as Buster’s Place in Trenton and Coach’s Bar and Grill in Petersburg, near Dundee.
Buster’s owner Pam Lezotte said she might be forced to close Jan. 1 if business doesn’t pick up because regular customers — most of them smokers — head home to light up. Bartender Linda Stabenau said tips have dropped 40 percent since the ban. At Coach’s, owner Gary Lesnau said business has dropped significantly and hasn’t picked up as forecast by ban proponents.
“I can see not smoking Winston in restaurants, where people spend 40 minutes inside eating and then leave. That makes sense. In bars, people spend four hours playing darts,” Lesnau said.
VFW wants changes, too
The Private Property Rights group wants lawmakers to change the law to allow bar owners and restaurants to decide whether to allow smoking. But there’s no movement in Lansing to make wholesale changes to the law, said Matt Marsden, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop, R-Rochester.
“I don’t think that there’s any desire to go back and rehash the smoking ban,” said Marsden, adding that Republicans opposed it.
One bill is pending to allow veterans groups to smoke inside Veterans of Foreign Wars or American Legion halls.
“It’s a very serious health issue when it’s 10 degrees out and I have to tell a Korean War vet to go stand outside by the Dumpster to smoke his cigarette,” said Steve Mace, co-founder of the Michigan Veterans’ Right to Decide Movement, another group fighting the law.
The law made Michigan the 38th state to ban smoking in workplaces where food or drinks are served. It doesn’t affect Detroit casinos, cigar bars and retail tobacco specialty shops.
Statistics about its impact on businesses are hard to quantify.
The Liquor Control Commission reported sales of cases of liquor increased by 80,690 for the seven-month period ending July 31, although gross revenue is down. The agency does not break down the total cases of liquor sold by on-premise licensee holders, such as bars and restaurants, and off-premise sales, such as party and grocery stores.”Case sales are up so we just figure people are buying less expensive liquor,” said Steve Robinson, director of finances for the commission.
Figuring out cause, effect
Likewise, lottery sales have trended downward for the last decade, said Campaign for Smoke Free Air spokeswoman Emily Palsrok. Club Keno games accounted for 23 percent of the $2.4 billion in revenue generated last fiscal year.
“It’s premature to point to the lottery as an indicator” that smoking is hurting businesses, she said. “We’ve done numerous studies that Michigan economy will not suffer. Of course, some individual businesses will be affected more than others.”
But bar owners and others say the impact is clear.
Nick Koupparis, owner of Union Music Co. in Harper Woods which supplies juke boxes, games and cigarette machines, said business is down 40 percent to 45 percent since May 1. Revenue from the machines is typically split with bar owners.