Economic effects of smoking ban to be examined

Campus-area bar owners question the validity of the countywide smoking ban.

by Derrick Biney

The Hennepin County Board of Commissioners is requesting that the county’s Office of Budget and Finance study the economic impact of the smoking ban that went into effect March 31.

Although the county office was unable to give specifics of the study, local bar owners have a variety of ideas on how the ban has affected them.

Sue Jeffers, owner of Stub & Herbs, said since the smoking ban has gone into effect in Hennepin County, it has placed an excess burden on local businesses.

She said city officials promised an increase of customers who would come to local bars because of the environments becoming smoke-free.

“Contrary to what they told us, the nonsmokers did not rush through our doors,” Jeffers said. “They went with their buddies over to St. Paul.”

The issues arose from complaints of the danger of secondhand smoke, she said. She said as far as she knows, no one has stopped smoking because of the ban.

“Promoting good, healthy moral behavior is something that can’t be done through the Legislature,” she said.

Dan Litzow, daytime bar manager for Sgt. Preston’s on the West Bank, said the ban eliminated the problem of people smoking indoors, but now they have to deal with people leaving cigarette butts on the sidewalks and patio areas. The only thing the ban changed was where people smoke, he said.

But Litzow said he is personally happy with the ban.

“I’m glad it’s done,” he said. “When I go out to eat, the last thing I want to smell is somebody’s cigarette.”

Mike Mulrooney, owner of Blarney Pub and Grill, said he has to deal with smokers congregating at the entrance of his bar and flicking cigarette butts around his property.

“I believe the only thing it’s doing is creating a cleaner environment, not a healthier one,” Mulrooney said.

Mulrooney said he thinks the State Legislature should pass a statewide ban, because making the ban exclusive to Hennepin County is unfair to business owners.

He said that although Blarney Pub and Grill hasn’t had as much business as usual this summer, he doesn’t know if that’s related to the smoking ban or lower numbers of students on campus during the summer. But he said he is skeptical about what will happen to business when winter rolls around.

Pete Rifakes, owner of Minneapolis Town Hall Brewery, said he has seen better business and is not in favor of the ban. He said he doesn’t think the government should tell a private company what to do.

“It’s not the government’s place to tell a private company if they can and cannot allow people to smoke,” he said.

Rifakes said he attributes his business’ prosperity to the food it serves and a brand of beer that only his restaurant serves.

He said he has seen an increase in diners who give him compliments about their experience. He said his regular customers who smoke have been complaining, but they still come because of the food.

Jeffers said that when the ban went into effect, the Legislature never defined what a public health risk was and it did not define any guidelines.

“The secondhand smoke scam will go down in history as one of the biggest frauds ever perpetuated against the general public,” she said.