Bars Take Donations to Pay Smoking Fines

Lynne Kiesling

Here’s an illustration of several important economic points. Illinois instituted a smoking ban in bars and restaurants in January 2008. One of the arguments for such smoking bans is to spare patrons and employees the negative effects of second-hand smoke. Clearly such a blanket ban has some negative unintended consequences that reduce economic efficiency relating to individual liberty; in particular, the legislation does not allow for voluntary smoking bars, where all patrons and employees knowingly and voluntarily choose to work at and patronize the bar.

The Crowbar, on the southeast side of Chicago near the Indiana border, provides an experiment on precisely this point. The bar’s owner takes donations to pay for the fines that he is charged for allowing smoking:

Owner Pat Carroll said his customers — smokers and nonsmokers alike — contribute to a “smoking fund” canister that often sits on the bar, to subsidize the fines he’s incurred for flouting the law.

Carroll said he’s been ticketed twice and paid at least $680. He fears that if he forbids smoking, his cigar-and-cigarette crowd would switch to bars that permit smoking just a few blocks away in Indiana. …

But some smokers say they’ll support any tavern that gives them sanctuary. Laura Pugh said she contributes $5 a month to Crowbar’s smoking fund, considering it akin to membership fees at a private club. If she couldn’t smoke there, Pugh said she’d probably go to a bar in Indiana.

First, notice what the legislation has done in terms of redefining property rights. In essence smokers are purchasing the right to smoke, because the legislation makes the default property right the non-smoker’s right to clean air.

That’s about the kindest interpretation I can put on the smoking legislation, because it does still also contain a substantial dose of the coercive public-health nanny mentality that is frequently reflected in the arguments for such legislation. For example, this quote from the Tribune story illustrates the mentality:

“There are always some bad apples out there who will try to get around the law,” said Tim Hadac, spokesman for the Chicago Department of Public Health. …

Katie Lorenz of the American Lung Association in Greater Chicago said she was disappointed that some bars weren’t complying; she added that the secondhand smoke harms employees and non-smoking patrons. “This is a health issue, and it affects every single person who happens to be in the bar,” she said. “What’s in the best interest of everyone is to not inhale those toxic fumes.”

Note the moralizing and the no-exceptions mentality in these quotes. If a group of people voluntarily choose to patronize and work at a particular establishment, with full awareness of the health effects of smoking, they are “bad apples” because they find the law unnecessarily onerous and believe that their voluntary choice to patronize a smoking bar does not harm anyone who has not made that conscious choice. Lorenz’s statement that the smoking ban is “in the best interest of everyone” applies a uniform public health standard but ignores differences in preferences and willingness to bear risk among people in the population.

Another important part of the economic dynamic here is the inter-jurisdictional competition. One reason the Crowbar continues to allow smoking is the owner’s fear of losing business to competing bars over the Indiana border. I bet that if you analyzed compliance with the smoking ban it would increase as you move away from the Indiana border, other things equal.

11 thoughts on “Bars Take Donations to Pay Smoking Fines

  1. I have found the answer to be Torch Electronic Cigarettes. I have “Smoked” aka vaped in restaurants, bars, malls and even at work. NO TOBACCO, and nothing is ignited. I get the nicotine that I CHOOSE (this is America, right), without first or secondhand smoke, no smell. Considerate to the non-smoker and the environment.
    Torch is even save to use around medical oxygen.
    Smokers, stand up straight and “Pick up the TORCH”.

  2. What you’re forgetting is it’s socially unacceptable for one person to make a group avoid such a bar. If it were then most bars would have long since banned smoking anyway, and the law would be unnecessary.

  3. Err, to clarify: if only 1 bar is non-smoking and 99 others are smoking, it’s difficult to make a group choose the non-smoking bar (other priorities usually control their choice of bar.) If there’s 99 non-smoking bars and just 1 smoking bar then they can still have other priorities, making air quality a big issue only for that 1 bar.

    It is draconian, but there’s no way both sides can win, and the tie should go for better health and public benefit.

  4. He is admired by local citizens as a hero fighting tyranny. The one thing not mentioned was the text-in poll conducted during the newscast which revealed that 65 percent of the viewers thpought that the smoking ban for bars should be repealed.

  5. I would be fine with this if it were a private club, with dues, and the employer was responsible for the long-term health problems that the employees will inevitably incur. But the right to a safe workplace overrides everything. It is a health, and if you want, a moral issue. There are people who would be willing to pay for a variety of immoral things–should that be allowed?

  6. @Adam Olsen

    I must respectfully disagree with you. There is a way both sides can win, but it requires an intelligent legislature. Instead of simply banning smoking, the legislature ought to set (reasonable) air quality levels in a method-independent way: perhaps something like pollutants per unit volume of air within 10 feet of the floor. Then the owner of an establishment could decide how to best meet those requirements. Some bars would opt to become non-smoking. Others could install air filtration systems. Still others could use high ceilings with windows to allow dirty air to escape (like a chimney). The end result: property owners retain control of their establishments, patrons get clean air and smokers likely retain a selection of bars in which they can smoke.

  7. Oh, that’d be pretty. Every table would have a vent hood over it. (Venting the whole bar only prevents buildup. You also need to ensure the person sitting next to you doesn’t drift your way.)

    You’re right though, if you can ensure the air stays clean then there’s no health risk.

    ‘course there’s also the politically dangerous fact that making smoking inconvenient can reduce the number of smokers, which increases the health of the population and reduces healthcare costs. Hey, maybe we should add a healthcare tax to cigarettes, corresponding to the full potential cost to the government. I’d love to see how much that’d add. 😉

  8. Austin Texas passed an ordinance a few years ago, and besides 5 or 6 grandfathered places that invested in some high-end air filtration systems, you can’t smoke idoors in the city. When it first went into effect, the city ACTUALLY told everyone to call 911 if they saw someone smoking indoors! They don’t encourage that anymore. Bars outside the city limits still permit smoking and their sales have are up a ton. my friends and I go to a few bars on the outside of north Austin and we can smoke. The same is true in Houston. I always stay in the Humble or Woodlands area as they do not have a smoking ban.

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