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Snuffing out smoking…one business at a time

October 16th, 2009  |  Lucas Otto

>As federal anti-smoking laws have gone into effect, several states have followed suit and banned smoking in many establishments. While many businesses have cried foul over these bans, citing the fact that they will lose customers, the over-arching mantra of backers of these bans is the health benefits. However, these “bans” have had the “unintended” effect of creating a small sect of popular businesses: smoking lounges.

This is not a real shocking occurrence because, as is often the case, when the door of one business opportunity closes, the window to another often seems to open. Yet, now these businesses, their employees and customers are facing closure as localities begin to institute their own set of smoking prohibitions. Take the Village of Worth, Illinois, where board members recently voted to extend Illinois’ anti-smoking laws to include businesses in the “business” of providing smokers a place to congregate. In Worth’s path are four indoor smoking lounges that will be forced to shut their doors, its employees will be out of work, and its customers will be out of a place to go to enjoy tobacco.

Illinois law states that smoking is allowed in retail tobacco stores (410 ILCS 82/35); however these “stores” only include:

an enclosed workplace that…distributes tobacco or tobacco products, when, as a necessary and integral part of the process of making, manufacturing, importing, or distributing a tobacco product for the eventual retail sale of that tobacco or tobacco product, tobacco is heated, burned, or smoked, or a lighted tobacco product is tested, provided that the involved business entity: (1) maintains a specially designated area or areas within the workplace for the purpose of the heating, burning, smoking, or lighting activities, and does not create a facility that permits smoking throughout (410 ILCS 82/10).

So, what’s the big deal? Smoking is bad for our health, right? So why not shut down places that provide a smoking haven? Well, while those sentiments may have some truth, it misses the point. The fact is, just look around at the local strip malls and you will see monuments to our fledgling economy: the empty store. These vestiges once housed businesses, and these businesses made money and employed people, many of the same people that populate unemployment lines. And yet, here we have a new kind of small business that seems to being doing well, but it, too, must shut down, its owners now out of a business, and its employees now to join the ranks of the unemployed—not because of the bad economy or lousy sales but, rather, because of what is being sold and used at the business by its patrons.

Now, for a lot of people, smoking is seen as a deplorable habit, and as a nonsmoker, I might agree. However, it is not illegal to smoke, and shutting down local businesses, especially in these poor economic times, does not seem to make the most business sense. It certainly makes one wonder if this is an unintended net result of the Illinois smoking ban. Yet, officials, like those in the Village of Worth, are in their positions in order to aid and protect its inhabitants, so maybe this ban’s “worth” to its citizens outweighs any detriments.

The fact is, it stands to reason that if one small town can do this, then several others, maybe even whole states, will probably follow suit. Smoking is certainly an important public health issue that needs to be continually dealt with, maybe at all costs, but just don’t tell that to the owners of these smoking lounges, or their out-of-work employees.