Cumberland Times-News

September 28, 2013

Five-year-old smoking ban loses impact

Matthew Bieniek
Cumberland Times-News

— CUMBERLAND — While Mineral County, W.Va., is preparing to enact an indoor smoking ban, Allegany County has the experience of instituting one. All the early debate over the ban has faded, though, as restaurant and tavern owners, and their patrons, have adjusted to the reality — heading outside to smoke.

Employees at one local pub like the no-smoking rule.

“It’s a good way to go home and not smell,” said Dawn-Marie Walters, who works at Patrick’s Pub. Walters said she thinks most employees are glad there’s no smoking in the restaurant and bar. Patrons who wish to smoke can go out on the front deck and light up if they wish, she said

Walters said she doesn’t think the no-smoking rule has had much of an effect on business, and the pub has a small smoking clientele. And decks are the way a number of local taverns and restaurants have dealt with the no-smoking rule.

Enforcement of the no-smoking rule is complaint based, and most of those complaints have dealt with peripheral issues and not allegations of indoor smoking, said Brian Dicken, director of environmental health services at the Allegany County Health Department. For instance, one recent complaint was that ashtrays were left out in a public area. In fiscal year 2012, there were only three complaints filed, said Dicken.

Bars and restaurants are adapting to the new rule by adding outside decks and seating, allowing patrons who wish to smoke that option, Dicken said.

“When we get a complaint we contact the business, a phone call usually fixes the problem. When the department carries out food inspections, they always check for required no smoking signs,” Dicken said. “There was obviously a learning curve.

“People are more aware of the issues and business owners want to comply. People have accepted it,” Dicken said, pointing out that surrounding jurisdictions also have smoke-free requirements for restaurants and taverns.

In many cases, both owners and customers in jurisdictions considering the smoking bans are often requesting the change.

The changes in nearby states is a theme shared by a restaurant owner.

“It’s national now, it is not only in Maryland, it’s Pennsylvania and now West Virginia,” said J. P. Geatz, owner of Geatz’s Restaurant. That changes the dynamics regarding smokers crossing state lines for a more comfortable bar or restaurant experience.

“You still find about 60 percent of bar-goers are smokers,” said Geatz.

“It’s kind of hard to judge if the ban has affected the restaurant business in this economy,” Geatz said.

While Dicken said there was some opposition to the rule when it was first instituted, concern has largely faded.

At the Main Street Hangar in Frostburg, a staff member said the smoking ban doesn’t have much of an effect.

“I think the patrons have adjusted,” said the staffer. The Hangar opened in 2008, right on the heels of the county smoking ban. The Hangar has small outdoor smoking areas in the front and back of the establishment. Electronic cigarettes are used by a handful of patrons, the staff member said.

Maryland made smoking in restaurants, taverns and bars illegal in 2008.

Contact Matthew Bieniek at mbieniek@times-news.com.