Michigan's smoking rate: unaffected by the ban

One of the supposed "good intentions" of Michigan's smoking ban was that it would reduce smoking in Michigan. Faced with the choice of either having to go outside or quit smoking, smokers were supposed to choose the latter.

This simply didn't happen. According to The Economic Impact of Michigan's Dr. Ron Davis Smoke-Free Air Law: A Report to the Michigan Department of Community Health, August 6, 2012:

"The ban may have shifted where people smoke but does not seem to have accelerated the decline in overall smoking."

The author of the report adds that this is "surprising," but should it be? A cursory glance at post-ban smoking rates around the globe indicate bans don't seem to have much effect. Ireland's smoking rate, for example, rose to a third of the population after they enacted their ban.

Smoking bans in the past

Historically, smoking bans have always failed in this way. In the early 1600s, tobacco use was punishable by death in the Mongolian empire. People kept on smoking. In Persia, Shah Sefi punished merchants selling tobacco by pouring hot lead down their throats. Other merchants simply moved in to take their place. In the Ottoman empire, Sultan Murad IV banned smoking in public places, demolished all buildings where people gathered to smoke, and sentenced to death anyone who broke his law. Murad even visited public places disguised as an ordinary citizen to catch offenders in the act; as many as 18 people a day were executed for violating his smoking ban. And did that stop people from smoking? As one contemporary put it:

"People being undeterred... his Majesty's severity in suppression increased, and so did peoples' desire to smoke, in accordance to the saying 'Men desire what is forbidden,' and many thousands of men were sent to the abode of nothingness."

"His Majesty" would murder smokers by hanging, beheading, or quartering them. Soldiers caught smoking had their hands and feet crushed and were left on the battlefield to die. On one expedition, between fifteen and twenty leading officers were arrested for the unspeakable crime of smoking, and were "put to death with the severest torture in the imperial presence." These elite soldiers were then executed, but "they found an opportunity to smoke even during the executions."

During that same century, also in the Ottoman Empire, surgeon Ibrahim Efendi made it his personal mission to convince his countrymen not to smoke, but "the more he spoke, the more people persisted in smoking. Seeing that it was fruitless, he abandoned his efforts."

Meanwhile, Russian Czar Michael Feodorovich created sadistic penalties to deter people from smoking. Violators were whipped, their nostrils and lips sliced with a blade, and they were sometimes castrated—all before being shipped off to forced labor in Siberia. And that was just for the first offense; two-time offenders were executed.

A lesson from history

So what's the takeaway? Well, if hanging, beheading, quartering, severe torture and execution didn't lower smoking rates (and in some cases, caused them to rise), how effective could banning it from bars possibly be?

In fairness, legislators who voted in favor of Michigan's ban probably weren't aware of this long, sordid history--nor of the fact that (modern) smoking rates in other states and countries remain unaffected by bans. Lansing likely only had "facts" given to them by pro-ban anti-smoking lobbyists.

Either way, the fact that Michigan's ban hasn't reduced overall smoking is important. It means a reasonable compromise on the issue wouldn't cause an increase in overall smoking.

Devastating for small business

"It is absolutely killing the small business industry, the bars and restaurants in Michigan. I get phone calls on a daily basis from places that are close to shutting down."

Scott Ellis, Michigan Licensed Beverage Association, on Michigan's smoking ban

This is extremely unfortunate, but there are several common-sense reasons why it's not surprising.

Businesses that offered smoking before the ban have lost some portion of smoking customers, and in some cases the nonsmoking customers they brought with them. Some smoking customers may still dine out, go bowling, play pool, etc., but they now do so less frequently due to the ban, overall.

We've heard many complaints about the ban from business owners who say their customers are outside smoking instead of inside smoking and spending money. Smoking customers and their friends also tend to leave earlier than they would if there were no ban. These numbers add up, as we'll discuss below.

Bans even hurt businesses which didn't allow smoking to begin with. No-smoking bars and restaurants were unique pre-ban, but have since lost that novelty. In Minnesota, for example, Starbucks voluntarily went smoke-free before their state's ban. This created a niche market for them that was taken away after the ban was enacted, and at least 26 Starbucks closed shortly thereafter.

If a business is doing well for itself because it's the only non-smoking restaurant in town, what happens to that business when every restaurant in town is forced to be smoke-free?

In nonsmoking states bordering smoking states, businesses near the border lose customers to states that allow choice. Smokers and their friends simply go across the border where they feel most welcome. Anti-smoking customers may feel more welcome post-ban, but so few of them exist that there aren't nearly enough to make up for losses.

Reduction in customers often translates into reduction of work hours, wages, and tips for servers and employees.

Ban proponents spin the facts

Despite all this, smoking ban advocates and anti-smoking groups claim bans aren't harmful to businesses--sometimes even claiming bans are helpful. The motivation for making such claims are obvious. Again, the amount of people who are so offended by smoking that they actually chose not to frequent free-choice establishments before the ban are few and far between. Yet Michigan's ban caters exclusively to this tiny group, excluding all others.

There are numerous red flags with ban advocates' claims:

Michigan's ban is killing mom and pop bars and restaurants.

In the imediate aftermath of the ban, a list of locations which changed hands or went out of business entirely was compiled. Unfortunately businesses were dropping at such an alarming rate that it was impossible to keep up. The following list only includes places which held liquor licenses and covers only a very brief span of time immediately after the ban (Courtesy Clean Air Quality):

Michigan's ban doesn't just hurt business. It hurts people. We're talking about people who have worked hard, sometimes for the majority of their lives, often spending their life savings to achieve their dream of owning a business. This isn't about "Big Business." We're not talking about oil tycoons here; many small business owners live paycheck to paycheck as the rest of us do. This ban is killing small business; it's affecting proprietors and their employees.

Economic impact studies

The Effect of Smoking Bans on Bars and Restaurants

"Using county level data on employment from across the US, we find that communities where smoking is banned experience reductions in bar employment compared with counties that allow smoking."

The Economic Impact of a Smoking Ban in Columbia, Missouri

"The smoking ban has been associated with statistically significant losses in sales tax revenues at Columbia's bars and restaurants, with an average decline of approximately 3.5 to 4 percent. Those that serve food and alcohol, or alcohol only, show significant losses with estimates in the range of 6.5 to 11 percent."

The Dallas Smoking Ordinance One Year Later

"These losses in Dallas represent a significant decrease and should be of concern for Dallas policy makers as they demonstrate the city is becoming less of a destination of choice for hospitality venues. They also clearly demonstrate the new ordinance is not drawing people into Dallas bars and restaurants as proponents of the ordinance forecasted."

The Effect of a Smoke-Free Law on Delaware Gaming Revenues

"Revenues are found to have declined significantly at each of the three facilities, with relative magnitudes of losses corresponding to the availability of alternative gaming venues in the region."

The Impact of Smoking Bans on the Hospitality Industry

"I find negative abnormal stock returns to portfolios of the hospitality industry firms examined upon the announcement of a proposed smoking ban. These results support the conclusion that a smoking ban lowered the aggregate market value of these firms."

Casino Revenue and the Illinois Smoking Ban

"Estimates suggest that revenue and admissions at Illinois casinos declined by more than 20 percent ($400 million) and 12 percent, respectively. Calculations reveal that casino tax revenue to state and local governments declined by approximately $200 million."

Impact of Smoking Ordinances on Restaurants

"Non-smoking ordinances were found to have a statistically significant impact on the sales and profits of individual restaurants in certain cases. Most of the significant effects regarding specific ordinance types enacted at different times were negative.

"Annual sales declines were estimated at 36 percent at restaurants where these bans were enacted four or more years earlier.

"In cases where significant declines in sales were estimated, gross profit tended to decline by a somewhat greater percentage.

Economic Impact of the New York State Smoking Ban on New York's Bars

"Specifically, the following statewide economic losses have occurred in New York's bar and tavern industry as a direct result of the statewide smoking ban: 2,000 jobs lost (10.7% of actual employment) $28.5 million in wages and salary payments lost, $37 million in gross state product lost.

"In addition, there are indirect losses to other businesses which supply and service the state's bars and taverns: 650 jobs lost, $21.5 million in labor earnings lost, $34.5 million in gross state product lost.

In summary, the enactment of the New York State smoking ban has had a dramatic negative impact on the bar and tavern business and related businesses. The total economic impact is: 2650 jobs lost, $50 million in worker earnings lost, $71.5 million in gross state product lost."

Michigan has one of the strictest smoking bans on the entire planet. It's one of the few that forbids smoking on outdoor patios, for example. In response, Michigan smokers (who make up a significant minority of the population) have simply stopped going out, or out as often. Many now entertain at home: private property where they are allowed to smoke where they eat and drink. Altogether, more groups are staying home--groups which would be out spending money if it wasn't for the ban.

We should emphasize that the blame here is not with smokers or small business owners. Neither asked for, or wanted, a ban. Pre-ban, owners were free to set their own smoking policy. If they didn't like smoking, they didn't have to allow it. Customers could freely choose which establishments to enter based on their own personal preference.

To anti-smokers, any business that allowed smoking deserves to go under. When establishments which never allowed smoking lose their uniqueness and are also damaged by bans, they're simply shrugged off by ban supporters as collateral damage.

Personal Experiences

"If they ended the ban, we'd get between 25 and 30 percent of our customers back. It's also costing more for heating and cooling. Customers are coming back in and out to smoke. The doors are being opened all the time. We're losing air-conditioned air in the summer and heating in the winter."

--Norm Kroll, owner of The Office Lounge in Port Huron

"Business went down after the smoking ban went into effect. We had a lot of smokers - probably half of (our customers)," says Will Banfield, former owner of Banfield's Bar & Grill in Ann Arbor. Banfield stated that his restaurant, which had been in business for 32 years, began losing business when Michigan's smoking ban began in 2010. Mr. Banfield stated he worked at his restaurant seven days a week, and is unsure what he will do.

"We were packed right up to the day that the smoking ban started. It's clear that the ban chased away our regular customers. When we held an outdoor event my smoking customers were back but they aren't back into the bar. They want to be able to smoke while they drink. I've lost my smoking clientele. Instead of coming here, where they can smoke where they drink, they're holding house parties, where they can smoke while they drink. The smoking ban has really hurt us. We've even had to tap into our retirement savings to get by."

--Pam Lezotte, owner of Buster's Place in Trenton

"It absolutely has not been because of the economy. It used to be that summer was typically the slowest season for bars. There are so many other things to do in the summer. But now our business falls off in the winter because customers don't like to have to stand outside in the cold weather when they smoke. It's already starting to get colder out and our business is beginning to drop off."

--Theresa Shackleford, owner of The Village Bar in Wayne

"Having been a landlord for 18 years, I've met with hundreds of prospective tenants. During that time, exactly one has declined to rent from me because I allow smoking in my buildings. I submit that the anti-smokers are a small radical fringe group, and not represenative of the true feelings of Michiganders in general."

--Scott Ewing, Owner/Manager of Ewing Properties, Lawton, MI

"I used to work at a place that was strictly NON-smoking before the ban. When the ban passed, even this place lost money, and workers have since been let go. What was once the only non smoking restaurant in town was suddenly transformed into one of many, and as a result people stopped coming."

--Anonymous, Escanaba, MI

"For some reason, the government is bound and determined to run bars out of business. They talk about trying to draw jobs into this state, but they are just putting more people in the unemployment line"

--Steve Hosington, former owner of the Driftway Inn (Belding). The Driftway had been a successful business for 39 years, but promptly went out of business when the smoking ban was enacted.

"Yes it did affect business. Did it help as far as non-smokers coming in? I don't know about that so much... It did have a negative effect... I should have had a choice on it. I pay for a food license and a liquor license. Why not have a smoking license?"

--Rick Powell, owner of Powell's Pub, Ypsilanti

"The promises they made in Lansing, I'm not seeing that."--Jeff Veach, owner of Veach's Office Bar (Jackson), on promises made that the ban would increase customers. Mr. Veach stated there are now times when the bar is completely empty, sales are down 30%, and he has seen a drop in his customer base since the ban took effect.

UPDATE: Unfortunately, Mr. Veach lost his business shortly after making this statement.

"After 8:30-9pm, there's no business. Before, we would be open until 1-2 a.m."

Melissa Schaaf, manager at Hank's Bar (Alger).

"Since the first month [of the ban], it has slowed down. People don't come in, and if they do, they don't stay."

--Kelly Berndt, bartender at the Wagon Wheel Inn (West Branch)

"It's affected us. We have a lot of upset customers."

--Sharry Albaugh, bartender at Cedar Bar (Lupton)

"It's mostly the ban that's caused the bar to close."

--Steve Fletcher, former owner of Fletcher's City Saloon (Cement City). The establishment had been in business for nearly 80 years prior to the smoking ban.

"I want to make the decisions over my own property. If I want a non-smoking establishment, I should have that. If I want a smoking establishment, I should have that."

--Dave Karlson, owner of the All Around Bar (Taylor). Karlson stated that sales at the establishment are down 45%, he's had to lay off 40% of his employees, and his remaining employees have taken a voluntary pay cut.

"It's hurt sales."

--Christina Byrd, co-owner of Flood's Bar & Grill (Detroit). Byrd stated the ban has caused a decrease in work hours for her staff.

"I've been losing money ever since [the ban]... My (gross) Keno money has gone down. I was doing about $7,000 to $8,000 a week, and I'm down to about $4,000... I would have never bought the bar if I'd known about the ban. I'm not trying to be a millionaire, but I put my retirement money into the bar... This is a factory bar. People breathe toxins all day at work and come in here, and the state says they can't light a cigarette? This is inherently wrong."

--Boyd Cottrell, retired police officer, owner of Sporty O'Toole's (Warren). Cottrell purchased the bar just prior to the ban.

Dan LaBrecque, (former) owner of Notke's Family Fun Center, "a name synonymous with bowling in Battle Creek and Southwest Michigan for more than a half-century," has stated that Michigan's smoking ban was a contributing factor in the bowling center's closure. The shut-down left 40 people out of work.

Michael DeMoss, owner of Mo Doggie's in Fenton, attributes the closing of his 21-year old business to Michigan's smoking ban: "Pretty soon, the only bars anywhere are going to be corporate bars you have to own five of them to make any money. Mom and pop bars, ever since the smoking ban took effect, they're dropping like flies."

Lisa Anderson, who worked at Mo Doggie's for 15 years, stated "It was a fantastic place, everyone knew each other. We were like family to each other. Many great relationships, engagements and marriages happened because of that place. Lifelong friendships. It's a place that will be sadly missed. We're all kind of lost right now. Nobody knows where to go."

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A burden on the state

Michigan's smoking ban has had a serious impact on state revenue, and therefore, the average taxpayer. A report by the Michigan Department of Treasury determined that the smoking ban has "reduced the activity at taverns that serve liquor." Such losses translate to losses in state revenue, and when you look at the numbers, "reduced activity" seems like quite the understatement.

According to numbers obtained from the Michigan Department of Labor, which oversees the Michigan Liquor Control Commission, 176 bar licenses had been lost and an additional 63 liquor licenses had been placed in escrow with the liquor control commission within six months of the ban's enactment.

Two years after the ban, data from the Michigan Liquor Control Commission showed at least 3,048 liquor license holders in our state reported a decrease in sales, with two-thirds of them saying their receipts were down at least 10%. That's on top of the additional hundreds, if not thousands, of places which have gone out of business since then. This paints a very grim picture when you consider how many jobs Michigan's smoking ban has cost.

Within the first 11 months of the ban, Michigan Lottery Keno sales dropped 15 percent--that's a $67.9 million dollar decline, translating into a $17.3 million loss for Michigan schools. When the smoking ban was debated, proponents promised no more than a $4 million drop. According to Andi Brancato, director of public relations for the Michigan state lottery:

"We can definitely attribute that to the smoking ban. Once that went into effect, the sales dropped."

The Michigan Licensed Beverage Association has estimated Michigan loses $1.5 million in state revenue per week due to the smoking ban. As of 2016, this amounts roughly to $108,000,000.

Who is benefiting?

Most Michigan residents are aware that casinos were given an exemption from the ban; a protection not offered to struggling small business owners.

Tribal casinos are exempt, of course, because the Michigan government has no jurisdiction over them on the issue. But non-Native American Detroit casinos are also exempt. Leading up to the ban, many Lansing insiders figured the Detroit casino issue would prevent the smoking ban from passing. Detroit casinos compete with nearby Native American casinos, and because of (well-founded) fears a smoking ban would be very bad for business, it was assumed Detroit lawmakers would help block a statewide smoking ban. To avoid this, ban proponents agreed to exempt the Detroit casinos, and so the votes materialized and the ban passed.

Cities in Indiana allowed similar casino exemptions, and as a result those bans were declared unconstitutional.

In other states

Minnesota casinos were given no such exemption. In 2003 and 2004, the Minnesota Charitable Gambling Reports showed revenue streams on the order of $120 million per month from non-casino gambling (pull-tab games, bingo, and keno, for example). This was before partial bans were enacted in 2005 and 2006 which included establishments associated with these forms of gambling. Following this, gambling revenue dropped by roughly $10 million a month. The partial ban was followed by a full state-wide ban at the end of 2007, followed by an instant drop of an additional $15 million a month. Minnesota's smoking ban, therefore, which didn't even include tribal casinos, still cost taxpayers over $300 million a year.

Illinois did include casinos in their state's smoking ban, and suffered heavy losses in revenue. On August 14, 2009, Kathy Drea, vice president of advocacy for the American Lung Association in the upper Midwest, looked at Illinois' casino losses and said, "I would say the economy would be the number one issue. I think the smoking ban had very, very little to do with it." This despite the fact that nearby Indiana, Iowa, and Missouri had very different stories despite quite similar economic conditions.

But casinos are just the tip of the iceberg

Who benefits the most from smoking bans? Not surprisingly, the very entities who lobby for them.

Smoking bans may not reduce smoking rates, but they certainly make smokers buy nicotine gum, lozenges, and patches. When Minnesota enacted their ban, for example, the sales of such products tripled. Most people are unaware of just how ineffective "nicotine replacement therapy" is, and so tend to stockpile such products when they suddenly aren't allowed to smoke.

The pharmaceutical industry, in the form of The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (Johnson & Johnson), for example, pumps millions of dollars into anti-smoking groups, secondhand smoke studies, and universities to push for smoking bans.

...And then there's the health department

When the ban was enacted, the Michigan Department of Community Health announced that the "Michigan Tobacco Quit Line" offered free nicotine patches, gum or lozenges. These products weren't exactly free, though--not when the heavy losses to small business owners and state revenue are considered. The Michigan Tobacco Quit Line can be considered a classic example of rent seeking--an act of lobbying in which an entity acquires a government mandate of their products and services (say, for example, the pharmaceutical industry and the anti-smoking groups they finance using our state government to create a law that perpetually benefits them).

And let's not forget that quit lines and nicotine replacement therapies have been shown to be less effective than quitting 'cold turkey.'

Small business owners could only dream of a government agency permanently advertising their business. Instead, mom-and-pop bars and restaurants are paying the price for the government to advertise pharmaceutical products. Adding insult to injury, numerous studies have shown that pills, patches, and other "nicotine replacement therapies" don't even work, and some of these products have allegedly resulted in premature death.

Lastly, most of the legislators who introduced Michigan's ban received large "campaign donations" from the pharmaceutical industry and/or groups advocating for Michigan's ban. Talk about special interests!

Most Michigan residents oppose the ban

Anti-smoking groups would have you believe that, because most people don't smoke, most people fully support and agree with our smoking ban. Our independent research completely contradicts this assertion. Most non-smokers are not anti-smokers. As our research has shown, there are very few real anti-smokers out there. However, anti-smokers intentionally blur the lines, often portraying all non-smokers as hating smoking/smokers as much as they do. Our research has shown that this is far from true.

"The available poll data suggest there is no public demand for further regulation of tobacco or smoking in this country. The issue doesn't come up in polling on the most important issue facing the country, and Americans show limited support for expanded taxes or bans on smoking when asked about it directly. In the absence of a high degree of concern about secondhand smoke...there seems to be a limited well from which potential public demand for more bans on smoking in public could spring."

Gallup's Pulse of Democracy, Tobacco and Smoking

And yet, anti-smokers would have you believe that, simply because Michigan has a smoking ban, Michigan residents must surely approve of it by an overwhelming margin. For example, it's common to hear an anti-smoker claim "most people don't smoke, these bans reflect the will of the people."

In an April 2013 article on MLive, the American Cancer Society's "Cancer Action Network" claimed 74% of Michigan residents agree with their stance that no changes should be made to the law--and they had a poll to back it up.

The results of that poll are, of course, absurd. They would have us believe that every non-smoker thinks one of the strictest smoking bans on earth is A-OK. No non-smokers would be OK with outdoor smoking areas where food is served? No non-smokers support separate, well-ventilated smoking areas? No non-smokers are comfortable with the notion of allowing smoking in bars? No non-smokers are willing to compromise, at all? Taking the poll seriously would also require belief that a large number of Michigan smokers adore one of the strictest smoking bans on the planet.

A more realistic scenario was painted by the MLive poll accompanying the very same article. The result: 63% of Michigan residents oppose the ban as-is.

Our poll, which ran from December 2015 to January 2016, was made available to non-members and reached close to 40,000 people. The results clearly demonstrate high public demand for a compromise on the smoking ban.

Because the ACS failed to disclose whether it allowed people to vote multiple times in its poll, and whether the poll was "members-only," we decided to conduct our own poll.

We wanted to get real results, so we blocked multiple votes and allowed everyone to vote, even non-members. The poll was targeted to all Michigan residents and ultimately reached over 40,000 people. The result shows a clear majority--86.3%--oppose the smoking ban as-is.

Our poll's results have a margin of error of 3% with a confidence level of 95%--meaning we can be 95% confident that between 83% and 89% want a common-sense compromise on Michigan's smoking ban law.

The only polls our researchers are able to find showing public support for smoking bans come from anti-smoking groups and ban advocates. Even averaging MLive's poll (available to everyone) with our own (also available to everyone) would result in 74% opposed to Michigan's ban as-is. This result is practically the exact opposite of the ACS poll, but makes much more sense: it means most smokers don't want such a strict smoking ban, and that most non-smokers are not anti-smokers and therefore feel the ban goes too far. It's clear to us that the vast, vast majority of Michigan residents are ready for a common-sense compromise on the issue.

If smoking bans were the spontaneous result of a sudden "will of the majority," anti-smoking groups wouldn't need so much pharmaceutical money to campaign for them. Ban proponents often describe advocating for bans as "uphill battles." They're uphill battles because so many people oppose them!

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