Thursday, December 4, 2008

Smoking bans are good for business?

Over the last couple of years, a lot of people have been rebelling against smoking bans, the punitive taxation of smokers and other nonsensical restrictions designed to penalize smokers. Some owners of bars, restaurants and smoke shops have openly defied the bans, often at great financial cost to themselves. People who believe in abstract concepts such as freedom to choose and personal autonomy.

I’ve written about a few of them on this blog.

Bob Gee, for example, is the owner of Mader’s Tobacco Store in Kentville, Nova Scotia. Bob is fighting a provincial law forcing him to cover up his cigarette and other tobacco related displays. Bob has another court date scheduled for January 16, 2009.

Mike Kennedy of Smith Falls, Ontario was convicted of violations of the Smoke Free Ontario Act. These violations included having ashtrays on the tables, allowing people to smoke and refusing to allow the smoke police into his place of business.

Mike argued that his establishment, as a private member’s club and not a public place, was exempt and the general public were neither invited nor permitted into the club. He lost, but there’s an appeal scheduled for next year.

Hamish Howitt runs Delboy’s Sports Bar in Blackpool, England; or at least he did. He lost his licence when London’s High Court ruled he was breaking the law. Howitt, a non-smoker, has run up thousands of pounds in fines for refusing to stop patrons from smoking on his premises.

The High Court ruled he was obliged by health and licensing laws to treat smoking in his bar as a crime and prevent it. He will close Delboy's to comply with the ruling, but will seek to take his case to the House of Lords, the highest court in the country.

Literally thousands of British pubs have closed their doors since the introduction of smoking bans in Scotland, Ireland and England. Many smokers have simply chosen to stay home rather than tolerate the blatant discrimination they face for a night out with friends. And the loss of business, due to the smoking bans, has contributed significantly to the closures.

There are also rumblings of discontent from elsewhere in Europe.

In the Netherlands, defiant bar and restaurant owners have demonstrated in the streets and many have openly begun to place ashtrays back on the tables, allowing their patrons to smoke. Germany was recently forced to repeal nationwide smoking bans after a series of court challenges. All are concerned about the loss of business occasioned by smoking bans.

And, in the US, anti-smoker crusaders attempting to implement smoking bans are meeting with more and more resistance. And, even in those jurisdictions with smoking bans in place (New York for example) there’s evidence that enforcement is growing a lax because businesses are losing money and many are closing their doors. A smoking ban in Atlantic City was recently delayed because of the adverse economic effects on casinos.

Smokers worldwide are resisting ever increasing sin taxes by buying less expensive contraband tobacco. Current estimates in Canada suggest senior levels of government are losing two billion dollars a year in taxation due to sales of contraband tobacco. Other governments around the world are facing similar problems.

The response of the anti-smokers (and the government) to any effort to circumvent the new anti-smoker laws is always the same; calls for even more draconian legislation and stricter enforcement. They seem to suffer from a peculiar form of tunnel vision which allows them to focus only on one particular aspect of the problem; eradicating smokers from society.

The anti-smoker crusaders refuse to acknowledge the socio-economic hardship being placed on the hospitality industry, the gaming industry, shop-keepers, etc. After all, they ask: what’s more important, people or profit? People must be forced to quit smoking . . . for their own good. No one; bartenders or wait staff, bar or restaurant owners, and especially smokers, must be allowed any choice in the matter.

Some of them might choose to work in a smoking environment rather than survive on unemployment. Some of them might choose to allow smoking in their business establishment, rather than walk away from a life-time of work. And, some people might choose to smoke.

And all the while, the anti-smoker brigade persist in their bottom-feeding habits; demanding more and more funding; living off the very segment of society they wish to destroy.

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