Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Non-smoking bars lose business . . .

Anti-smoker zealots have persuaded gullible politicians that smoking bans are needed to protect the public from the hazards of secondhand smoke; hazards which may, but most likely do not, exist. They have convinced legislators that no economic damage would ensue from the implementation of smoking bans, that there would be no additional costs to society for enforcement and that there would be no political fallout because the majority supported the imposition of smoking bans and other punitive action against smokers.

Of course, anti-smoker zealots have been known to stretch the truth. Hell, they've even been known to flat out lie.

Public nudity, like smoking, is frowned upon. But, those who find that activity pleasurable are accommodated. They can join a nudist camp where they can socialize with like-minded individuals. Strip clubs, open to the public, cater to those with more prurient interests. Those who find such activity offensive can choose not to be exposed through the simple expedient of not attending such facilities.

No such accommodation is afforded smokers.

Through the legal device of the smoking ban, ordinary citizens have been turned into lawbreakers as they seek to avoid the punishment meted out for publicly engaging in what is an otherwise legal activity. Or, in the case of bar owners and their staff, the penalties imposed for allowing their clientele to engage in a legal activity.

At any rate, Sheriff Todd Nehls wants the lawbreakers out of Dodge. And the lawbreakers he's most interested in are the bar owners and bartenders who allow patrons to smoke in their establishment.

According to Nehls, blatant disregard of the statewide smoking ban will no longer be tolerated in the taverns of Dodge County, Wisconsin. He's ordered his deputies to make unannounced bar checks to catch the culprits and issue citations, thus turning the Dodge County Sheriff's Department into the Dodge County Bureau of Smoker Harassment.

The Wisconsin smoking ban, like most such bans, was to be self-policing. That is to say the bar owners and their staff were to be pressed into service as unofficial “smoke police”, without remuneration and with no clear direction as to how they were expected to carry out the responsibilities with which they were charged. Questions of liability, in almost all cases, have been completely ignored.

For example, if a police officer or other law enforcement official is injured in the line of duty, he or she is provided with a pension and health care coverage. But, will the same coverage be extended to the 130 pound waitress who is injured in an altercation with an uncooperative patron who defiantly lights up despite the proliferation of no smoking signs and the absence of ashtrays?

Will the state, which has unilaterally imposed the responsibility for law enforcement functions on bar owners and their staff, provide similar compensation if those civilians are injured carrying out the duties imposed on them by the state?

Who will be liable if a patron is seriously injured in an altercation with over zealous bar staff who attempt to eject uncooperative clientele? Will the state absolve bartenders and wait staff of any liability if they are sued for assault or use of excessive force?

Remember, this obligation to enforce a state law is being imposed on civilians, without their consent, without compensation of any kind and with no training in proper police procedure or law enforcement. Bar owners and bar staff are expected to comply with the law or be subjected to financial penalties without defining what compliance, for any practical purposes, actually means.

Is it enough to remove ashtrays and post signs? To orally inform patrons that lighting up on the premises is illegal? Are they required to stop serving uncooperative clientele? Should they call the police?

Bar owners are faced with a simple ultimatum: stop your clientele from smoking in your establishment or be penalized.

According to Sheriff Nehls: “We now have this rivalry of bar owners turning in other bar owners. That’s what the fight is about now. You’re either a business that complies with the law and has no business as a result or you’re breaking the law to get more business. And we’re going to bring that to an end.” Huh? They have no business as a result of enforcing the smoking ban?

That's an open admission that smoking bans do adversely affect the bottom line; that given a choice, smokers will choose to patronize bars which allow smoking. Non-smoking custom could likewise be free to patronize bars which prohibit smoking. Those who choose not to be exposed to secondhand smoke need never enter the doors of an establishment which allows smoking.

Of course, if the bars which adhere to the law are losing business to those which don't, then the the anti-smoker argument that most bar patrons prefer a non-smoking environment is a demonstrable lie. Otherwise, those establishments which ignore the smoking ban would be losing business to the smoke free venues.

Prohibition, by whatever name, has been shown to be counter-productive. The prohibition of alcohol in the US from 1920 through 1933 did not eradicate drinking. Prohibition, smoking bans. A rose by any other name.

Perhaps it's fitting to give the last word to John D. Rockefeller, Jr., a staunch supporter of prohibition: “When Prohibition was introduced, I hoped that it would be widely supported by public opinion and the day would soon come when the evil effects of alcohol would be recognized. I have slowly and reluctantly come to believe that this has not been the result. Instead, drinking has generally increased; the speakeasy has replaced the saloon; a vast army of lawbreakers has appeared; many of our best citizens have openly ignored Prohibition; respect for the law has been greatly lessened; and crime has increased to a level never seen before.”



Carl V Phillips said...

Very nice analysis. You definitely have a better grasp of the economics of pub bans than most of the people who publish about it in journals.

One thing to keep in mind though: The fact that one pub can get an advantage by ignoring the rule is not actually proof that the rule hurts them collectively. (Note that I believe the claim that the rule does hurt them collectively, I am just addressing the reasoning.) Consider a rule, which would be an illegal conspiracy actually, where the pub operators got together and agreed to raise their prices 20% and not lower them below this floor. They would almost certainly make higher profits from this arrangement. But each one would have the incentive to drop his prices a bit, to attract more business from his more-expensive competitors, and thereby make more profit (a bit less profit per unit, but a lot more units sold). That is, individuals would have the incentive to cheat, and their competitors would have the incentive to try to make them stop, even though the rule was good for everyone if obeyed.

This does not mean that a rule that someone wants to cheap on is necessarily good for them, obviously. That is seldom true. But in anti-competitive collusions, it is true. And anti-smoking rules look enough like an anti-competitive collusion ("let's all get together and do something our customers do not like; as long as we all do it, where are they going to go?") that we cannot assume they do not work that way. As I said, I do not think that they do, but it cannot be ruled out simply based on the fact that there is incentive to cheat.

The Old Rambler said...

A valid point, Dr. Philips. Just a few comments.

A price-fixing arrangement might be good for all bar owners, but not for everyone. It's the consumer, the bar patrons, who suffer from such schemes; forced to pay more than they would in an open and free market. The anti-competitive nature of price-fixing, and the adverse impact it has on the consumer, is why it's illegal.

I believe many bar owners supported smoking bans, or at least they preferred their own businesses be smoke free. However, they were reluctant to exercise their right to prohibit smoking in their own establishment because they were justifiably concerned that smoking clientele would simply move their custom to the smoker friendly bar down the block.

A state imposed ban meant they could gratify their predilection for a smoke free establishment without having to surrender a competitive advantage to bars which chose to continue catering to a smoking clientele. Both the state, and anti-smoker NGO's, took (take) full advantage of this dichotomy within the bar trade.

This kind of state intervention, while it may not meet the dictionary definition of collusion, has just as deleterious an effect on the consumer as price-fixing. And, just as importantly, it strips bar owners of their right to prescribe the behaviour of their patrons on their own property.

smokervoter said...

Apparently the sheriff got his marching orders from the Dept. of Health, who in turn got theirs from 'good' snitching citizens. From there the bar owners got into the act turning one another in. Now the sheriff and the bar-owners are at odds. What a mess. Oh what a web we weave.

It all hinges on the environmental protection and worker safety agencies accepting faulty SHS junk science as the originating premise. That is what must change. They insist on unrealistic Garden of Eden air environments in all workplaces.

Even ameliorative solutions like air filtration systems get thrown out the door. Perhaps the tobacco companies, or even the liquor industry, could make a low-cost credit facility available that would enable at least a few bars to install these systems. The payback is obviously there.

This isn't a case of unintended consequences either. As you mention, the failure of Prohibition is well documented.