An “I Told You So” to the Tobacco Nazis

One of the political campaigns I recently worked was for the re-election of a member of the Birmingham City Council. Joel Montgomery won with 54.5% of the vote. One of the controversial issues leading into the city council elections was a smoking ban in city restaurants, an issue which Montgomery fought hard to defeat — but eventually lost. One article at the time provided:

The Alabama Restaurant Association, which represents numerous Birmingham restaurateurs, strongly opposes any local smoking bans as our research shows that if smoking customers have a choice of going to a nearby restaurant where they can smoke, they will do so to the detriment of smoking-ban affected restaurants.

While I’m not at all happy with the ARA (they support a statewide smoking ban), their position on local bans is correct. One recent anecdotal example brings us back to Joel Montgomery, who made this case against the ordinance:

You can make a case for it either way . . . It is a health issue, but it is also a freedom of choice issue and a civil liberties issue, and we just have to balance it out, and it’s a tough thing to do.” In closing, Montgomery issued a caution as ominous as the surgeon general’s warning on a pack of cigarettes. “I believe that people who are proponents of this smoking ban want a prohibition on tobacco, period. From there, what’s next? I don’t think you’ve heard the last of this.”

Last night, some of Montgomery’s key supporters held a small Christmas party for him at a local restaurant. Kim Rafferty set up the event, and one of the stipulations was that we would eat at a place that allowed smoking. We ending up paying a moderately hefty tab for the evening (the crab legs were great, and the rib-eye was pretty good), as we had multiple courses and alcoholic beverages at a local steak place. But it wasn’t as local as we would have liked it, as it wasn’t at an establishment in Montgomery’s district. Dining locally is our normal practice, but it was just too darned cold to go outside to smoke. We ended up going to suburban Trussville (on my poop-list for another issue) to eat. Birmingham lost our business and tax revenue, too. While the Birmingham City Council has a long history of sticking it to small businesses, they do seem to love their revenue stream.

Councilwoman (and now council president) Carole Smitherman once said this in reference to loss of business in Birmingham:

“They always threaten us with that,” she said. “If we do have an adverse economic impact, we can amend the ordinance. Of course, I’m about choice … but I don’t think it’s a vital option right now.”

Study after study indicates that such smoking bans kill local business. Additionally, I thought I’d provide my most recent anecdotal case of adverse economic impact.

Carole, now is the time to put your money where your mouth is.

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