In the past few months, anti-smoking sentiment has gained traction, and both Delaware and New York have adopted tough new bans on smoking in bars and restaurants.
Delaware’s ban has been in effect since Nov. 27, while Mayor Bloomberg’s pet-project takes effect in New York on March 30.
In both places, bar and restaurant owners are collectively crying out for help, saying that such a ban would choke-off a significant amount of business.
But their efforts amount to nothing more than smoke and mirrors.
New York establishment owners are pointing to early reports of lost profits in Delaware’s bars and restaurants as a sign of things to come.
For some reason, I’m not worried about people passing up Manhattan’s flourishing nightspots for a dive bar in Hoboken or an Applebee’s in White Plains.
New York is a destination for nightlife and fine dining, and smokers aren’t going to disappear, at least until they die of emphysema.
Delaware, which has only a handful of desirable watering holes, and about as much fine dining as we do on campus, should be concerned about losing business to nearby Philadelphia and Maryland.
But ironically, it is Delaware’s proprietors who are responsible for the ban.
Initially, talk of banning smoking in bars and restaurants was a mere undercurrent in the state’s legislature.
A few health conscious assembly people supported the bill, but their requests were amplified only when bar and restaurant owners rejected the idea of providing separate smoking sections, along with separate ventilation systems.
They said installing separate ventilation systems would be too expensive.
Any good entrepreneur knows that you can’t concern yourself only with the current costs; you also need to project the future return on your investment.
Delaware bar and restaurant owners failed to understand this economic principle.
Now they are engaged in an overt campaign to overturn the ban that they made necessary.
Apparently, the inconvenience of going outside for a cigarette is too much for them to take.
They have rallied the support of smokers who believe they have been wronged, and their campaign is yielding results.
The legislature is considering allowing smoking in bars where patrons must be at least 21 years old, while leaving the ban in place for restaurants.
Delaware lawmakers are also considering adopting an exception to the New York law, which allows smoking in strictly defined private clubs.
That the Delaware legislature is acquiescing and reconsidering the ban sets a dangerous precedent in policy-making.
First, it affirms that state legislators are merely puppets to business interests.
It also shows that the state is willing to make health policy contingent on economics.
It is bad enough that economics are considered in the passing of health and environmental bills, but to nix an existing health law because of economic consequences is frightening.
“I don’t recall anyone ever saying there would be no economic losses because of this law,” Delaware Rep. Deborah Hudson told The Wilmington News Journal.
“But this wasn’t an economic bill; it was a bill to protect our health. Those bills often have economic costs.”
In the cost-benefit analysis, some things, like trying to reduce cancer in the most cancer-ridden state, are worth the sacrifice of an empty barstool while a patron is outside smoking.
Jesse Chadderdon can be reached at email@example.com