Smoking or non-smoking section?

“Isn’t making a smoking section in a restaurant like making a peeing section in a swimming pool?”

George Carlin had a good point: Cigarettes and dining out are a bad combination. And, in light of the past few years, the world seems to be catching on. An increasing number of U.S. states and cities, in addition to other countries across the globe, are passing legislation banning smoking in public places, including bars and restaurants. Pennsylvania isn’t far behind. Not everyone is in favor of such a change in policy, but recent statistics concerning the possible economic and medical benefits practically speak for themselves.

Many stakeholders in the restaurant business are opposed to a statewide law against indoor smoking. “Every owner or operator should make his own decision, and customers can vote with their feet,” said restaurateur Kevin Joyce, as quoted in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. According to the Post-Gazette, approximately one-fourth of all Pennsylvania residents are smokers. Many restaurant owners are afraid that without a smoking section, they’ll lose a significant portion of their patronage.
However, data from places where it is already illegal to smoke indoors suggest that anti-smoking laws are actually good for business. In the year after New York City prohibited indoor smoking in 2003, bars and restaurants in the city experienced an 8.7 percent gain in profit. Similarly positive results have been recorded in the cases of Delaware and California. “It’s fear of the unknown that makes restaurants think business will go down if they go smoke-free,” said Greg Hartley of Smokefree Pennsylvania when interviewed in the Post-Gazette. “Will some businesses lose business? Probably. But most will not, and you don’t make public policy decisions based on the least common denominator.”

When it comes to anti-smoking legislation, the main issue is health. Employees of establishments that permit indoor smoking suffer significant risk due to the dangers of secondhand smoke inhalation. A University of California at Berkeley study determined that taking an eight-hour shift in a smoke-filled environment is equivalent to smoking 16 cigarettes. And even employees in the non-smoking section are vulnerable: the same study reported such employees might as well be smoking 10 cigarettes with every shift. According to an article in HealthDay, secondhand smoke can have debilitating effects on the circulatory system, including a heightened risk of heart attack and clotting. A ban on indoor smoking could also prove salubrious to current smokers, since a smoke-filled environment is more likely to tempt a struggling quitter to light up another cigarette.

Pennsylvania lawmakers are starting to come around. The Post-Gazette quoted state Senator Jake Corman (R) as he described how opinion changed. “My initial reaction was that it was a marketplace issue, that businesses should have the freedom to cater to people who smoke,” he said. “But now I want to know more.” At this rate, it might not be long before Pennsylvania becomes the next state to ban indoor smoking.