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City of Ballwin’s Sales Tax Receipts in Decline Prior to Smoke-Free Law

June 4, 2009 Smoke Free 25 Comments

We’ve all heard it before.  St. Louis suburb, the City of Ballwin, passes a smoking ban and restaurant sales decline after the effective date.  You know what?  It is true.  Sales & tax receipts have declined since the law took effect on January 2, 2006.  There, I said it.  That is the part, and the only part, the pro-smokers what you to know.  They use this to scare other cities into believing that they too will have a reversal of fortunes if they pass a smoke-free law. What politician will vote for something they’ve been told will reduce their city’s budget?

There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.

Numbers can be manipulated to show just about anything.  So when someone says that sales declined after a certain point you have to ask what were they doing prior to that point?  Were they ascending prior to that point?  Are their other factors responsible for a decline?

The fact is the City of Ballwin’s receipts had been in decline for several years prior to their smoke-free law.  A friend of mine, a graduate of Saint Louis University’s Masters in Urban Planning & Real Estate Development program working in real estate and economic development consulting, pulled sales tax data from the Missouri Department of Revenue (source) and created the following charts for me to use:

In reading the above note the blue line represents all sales in Ballwin measured based on the values on the left side.  The red line represents restaurant sales as measured by the values on the right hand side.  The are plotted together to see how they fall relative to each other.  The vertical line shows the point when the smoke-free law took effect.  As you can see all sales and restaurant sales had been in decline for years before the smoking ban.

The above shows restaurant sales as a percentage of all sales.

Sales per establishment appear relatively unchanged.  Of course some may have seen a big decrease while others saw a big increase.  But the sky over the City of Ballwin did not fall as is claimed by many.

The number of establishments has varied before and after the law took effect.  Do we see a trend of lots of business closures?  No.

All four charts can be viewed in greater detail here.

A month ago,  comments on Clayton’s discussion of going smoke-free on STLToday.com the City of Ballwin was used as an example of why the smoke-free laws should not be enacted — the sky will fall.

Bill Hannegan   May 5, 2009 2:04AM CST
Harry Belli, owner of Harry’s West in Ballwin, recently wrote to Mayor Goldstein and the Clayton Board of Aldermen detailing the economic hardship the Ballwin smoking ban caused his business:Dear Mayor Goldstein, I am writing you on behalf of Bill Hannegan with Keep St. Louis Free. He asked me to give you my opinion on the discussions regarding the smoking ban. A little history about myself. My name is Harry J. Belli. I presently own Harry’s Restaurant and Bar in downtown St. Louis. I also own the Sidebar on Washington Avenue and owned Maggie O’Briens Pub for 30 yrs. I owned and operated Harry’s West in Ballwin on Kehrsmill and Clayton Roads. We were open at the Ballwin location for 10 years. The Ballwin location had always had the policy of no smoking in the dining area, but allowed smoking in the bar/lounge and patio areas. Our customers were always given the option of separate smoking and non-smoking areas. The alderman in the City of Ballwin approached us about the smoking ban and we told them of our concerns. I can tell you, I believe we were right. The original plan was no smoking inside and within 25 feet of our building. This plan included no smoking in the patio area. We did get them to change that part of the plan and at least allow smoking in the patio area. The aldermen said that by banning smoking we would get the non-smokers to come in. Unfortunately, this was not the case. We saw no increase of either diners nor bar patrons seeking out a non-smoking environment. Subsequent to the smoking ban, Harry’s West lost between 10% and 15% of our revenue within the first 30 days. That was $2000-$2500 per week or approximately $130,000 per year. What kind of financial slope would the City of Clayton be in if it were to lose 10% to 15% of it’s tax base? I can assure you that it is not a good position to be placed in. We could not overcome that loss and eventually closed the Restaurant. We employed 40 people that lost their jobs and the City of Ballwin lost tax revenues. However, I am sure that the surrounding municipalities enjoyed their windfall. We were definitely not the only dining establishment to close their doors and to my knowledge, no restaurants and bars are eager to open in Ballwin. The problem with banning smoking by municipality is that the establishments are anywhere from a couple of miles or sometimes yards away from establishments that allow smoking, giving the non-smoking establishments an unfair disadvantage. It just makes no sense, unless the ban is imposed state-wide. I believe that if the restaurants and bars give their customers the option to dine in a smoke-free environment and their smoking customers the option to eat and drink in the bar/lounge/patio areas, that you accomplish the best for both and don’t lose your hard earned dollars, not to mention jobs and tax revenue for the City. I also believe that a municipality ban will discourage new businesses from wanting to open up shop in an area that will put them at a distinct disadvantage….. Sincerely, Harry J. Belli

A response was enlightening:

Enlighten Me   May 5, 2009 10:03AM CST
Mr. Hannegan -With all due respect to business owners and Harry Belli, Mr. Belli does not know what’s happened in Ballwin after their Clean Air Ordinance went into full effect on January 2, 2006. Your constant repeat of Belli’s letter to Clayton is getting old…real old. Here are the real facts:As quoted in a St. Louis Post-Dispatch Suburban Journal news article on June 28, 2007, “Tom Aiken (Ballwin’s City Planner) said life after the ban has remained status quo. After reviewing business license fees, which are based on gross receipts, two years prior to and one year following the ban, there was no dramatic difference in any business’ numbers, Aiken said. Aiken said that while some residents attributed the closing of several businesses to the ban, those restaurants’ sales histories showed a decline in business several years prior to the legislation. He said restaurant sales throughout the city had both decreased and increased with the ban, but the difference in percentage points was so little that it was impossible to conclude whether either was a result of the no-smoking ordinance”. Staff has recently reviewed numbers to date and this trend…or lack thereof…continues. Harry’s West lost significant lunch crowd when Citicorp moved to Wentzville and dinner crowd when Chesterfield Valley exploded with development of retail and restaurants. Let’s continue.French Quarter Bar: When Ballwin was considering their ordinance, the owner of the bar said he would be shut down by it in three months. Today, three years later, it is still a thriving business with live music offered often. Ashley Daniels, general manager of the French Quarter Bar and Grill in Ballwin, said her business is booming. We are absolutely more successful now than we were before the smoking ban,” Daniels said.More: Red Lobster, Lone Star and O’Charleys – These chain restaurants have relocated to Chesterfield Valley and operate there as a 100% smoke free restaurant voluntarily. There has been much discussion by the cities located in the Manchester Road corridor of the negative effect the booming Chesterfield Valley development is having on all retail and restaurants. Harry Belli has stated on several occasions that the Chesterfield Valley was negatively impacting Harry’s West. Chili’s, Krieger’s Pub and All Stars: Often cited as establishments that closed because of Ballwin’s law but Chili’s was located in Manchester, Krieger’s in Ellisville and All Stars in Chesterfield. The Ballwin postal area extends from Des Peres on the east to Wildwood on the west…far beyond Ballwin’s city limits. When one uses “Ballwin” as a location, it doesn’t necessarily mean within the city limits.Existing, New and Expanding Business in Ballwin – Mi Lupita, a Mexican restaurant in Ballwin, saw a 10% increase in sales after the ordinance went into effect said the restaurant’s assistant manager Raul Haro. They increased their space as well. Sky Music Lounge, a live music bar in Ballwin located in the Barn at Lucerne opened post-ordinance and last friday expanded by adding a sports bar. The owner embraced the idea of smoke-free air and patrons come from all over to hear live music in a smoke-free atmosphere. Harry’s West was located at the same intersection. Charlotte’s Rib and Fortel’s were smoke free before the CAO and remain at the same intersection today. Lone Wolf Coffee Company just opened in Ballwin in late 2008 also near the Barn at Lucerne. Senor Pique, a Mexican restaurant that began in Manchester, has recently moved to Ballwin in the vacated O’Charley’s space. Manchester does not have a smoke-free ordinance. The restaurant is very busy and will be so tonight for Cinco de Mayo. Candicci’s just received the green light (April ’09) to operate in Ballwin. Applebee’s has retained their Ballwin location but closed its restaurants in Wildwood and Chesterfield.Finally, Ballwin’s CAO has been in full effect for over three years and their police have written NO ordinance violations. This is the REAL story about Ballwin. It’s a shame that opponents to Clean Air can’t see through the smoke.

The above commenter knows that other factors, such as competiton from Chesterfield and Citicorp’s move, has impacted Ballwin’s businesses.  Taken together with real sales data from the Missouri Dept of Revenue (above) shows that the City Ballwin may be a good case study afterall.  If your receipts are declining they will likely continue to decline regardless of a smoke-free law.  Just wanted to clear the air.


Clayton To Go Smoke-Free While St. Louis Debates

Board Bill #46 has been introduced at the St. Louis Board of Aldermen.  If approved it would make establishments in St. Louis smoke-free.  The trick, is it would not go into affect until St. Louis County passed a similar measure.  To give the County the political leg it needed to pass a smoke-free law I supported such a trigger mechanism.  But last month neighboring municipality and county seat, Clayton, took a big step closer to going smoke-free by July 2010:

Last night the Clayton board of aldermen gave initial approval to a smoking ban for businesses and restaurants that would go into effect in July 2010.

The bill needs one more reading before becoming law, though it looks to be virtual done deal at this point. Just one alderman voted against the ban yesterday and that’s because he believes it is too weak. (He’d like to see smoking prohibited in public parks and green spaces, as well.)

When the ban becomes law, Clayton will become only the second of St. Louis County’s 91 municipalities to enact a smoking ban.

Last night, Clayton mayor Linda Goldstein said she hoped her city would prove to be an inspiration. “If we pass this ordinance, Clayton will serve as an example to other municipalities and will give them encouragement to pass similar legislation.”  (Source: RFT)

While Illinois is smoke-free, the only smoke-free municipality among the 91 in St. Louis County is the Western suburb of Ballwin.  The Jefferson County of Arnold is also [partially] smoke-free.  But with the abutting suburb of Clayton expected to be smoke-free by July 2010 it changes the political landscape for the City of St. Louis, to a degree.

The bill to make St. Louis smoke-free was introduced by 28th Ward Alderman Lyda Krewson.  Her ward includes the many restaurants along Euclid Ave in the Central West End as well as the city’s portion of the Loop along Delmar.   Most of the Loop is in University City, in St. Louis County.  Krewson doesn’t want to pit establishments against each other, especially on the same street.

University City Mayor Joe Adams was among five Mayors that signed a letter in January urging the St . Louis County Council to adopt county-wide smoke-free legislation.  Clayton’s Goldstein was another.  University City abuts both Clayton & St. Louis.  Will University City also adopt smoke-free legislation?  If so, the Loop could be smoke-free end to end without action by St. Louis County — if University City & the City of St. Louis both passed smoke-free ordinances.

I recently tried the trendy Loop pizza place Pi, located in the City’s section of the Loop.  As regular readers know, I only patronize smoke-free establishments.  The hour long wait to be seated confirmed a place can be both smoke-free and successful.  For the record, it was totally worth the wait!

The restaurant business is tough.  I can think of many places, both smoking & smoke-free, that have closed over the years.  Smoke-free laws are often blamed for the closure of establishments that likely would have closed anyway.  But as we all know places close with or without smoke-free laws.  The smoke-free laws are simply an easy scapegoat for failed businesses and pro-smoking advocates.

Clayton & Ballwin do not have one thing St. Louis does: casinos.  While casinos are not for me, I know I’d avoid Missouri casinos and head to Illinois if so inclined.  But casinos have disproportionally more smokers than the population.  Would St. Louis’ lose business to nearby casino’s if it went smoke-free?  Maybe, maybe not.  A tourist in town wanting to take a drag as they pulled the slot machine lever would find casinos on both sides of the river downtown smoke-free.  Would they drive or take a cab to a smokey casino in St. Louis County or St. Charles County?  Perhaps?  The question is if customers & employees at St. Louis casinos should continue to be subjected to unhealthy air because of a fear of a loss of tax revenue?

So perhaps St. Louis’ smoke-free bill should be amended to take affect upon the earliest of two events:  1) the active date of a  St. Louis County smoke-free ordinance or 2) January 1, 2011.  If the St. Louis County Council passes a smoke-free regulation that would go into affect on say August 1, 2010 then St. Louis’ law would be triggered for that same date.  But otherwise St. Louis would go smoke-free on January 1, 2011 — six months after Clayton.  This doesn’t address the casino issue but it does give other municipalities the comfort of knowing they would not be alone if they too went smoke-free.

St. Louis’ bill is in the Health & Human Services committee chaired by 27th Ward Alderman Gregory Carter.  My Alderman, Kacie Starr Triplett (6th Ward) , is on this committee.

UPDATE 6/2/09 @ 3pm — added the word “partially” before Arnold.


Why Not Return Smoking to Flights?

April 30, 2009 Smoke Free 23 Comments

With most places such as hospitals and office buildings taking the wise step to protect the health of occupants smokers in these places are forced outside — or into restaurants, bars casinos and such.  The place where you want to enjoy a meal is where they want to exercise their freedom. Take this line from a pro-smoking flier:

In many cases, the only place you would be legally able to smoke is in the middle of the road.

Cue the violin player.  You can smoke all you want in your private residence.  Where the public is invited — hospitals, airplanes or the local diner.  Of course Federal law prohibits smoking on planes.  I can’t imagine how horrible it must have been to fly with smokers.  The privately owned airlines were free to cut out smoking on their own but that would have set up confusing lists of non-smoking flights vs smoking flights.  Non-smokers would have been forced to breath the polluted air of the passenger next to them.  Again, I can’t imagine how horrible that must have been.

Should we lift the federal prohibition on smoking on planes and let the privately owned airlines make their own decision about smoking?  Of course not.  We all know how pleasant it is to fly without having the freedom to breath in the right of another.

Of course some would have suggested that airlines retrofit their planes, at great expense, with air filtration systems so they can continue to smoke anywhere they please.  Because for them, it is all about them and their “right” to smoke.  Screw the rest of us.

The same logic applies to restaurants, bars and casinos. If you don’t want St. Louis to go smoke-free then you must advocate a return to smoking on flights, right?

The smoke anywhere we like lobby says half the restaurants are voluntarily smoke-free.  I know many I want to visit are not.  I’d like to see the breakdown behind these claims.  But assuming it is right, then half the restaurant owners have nothing to fear from laws designed to clear the air for all.

Back to the flier quoted earlier.  I received a copy of a letter & flier sent out by the selfish we want to smoke anywhere lobby.  No, it was not mailed to me.  It was mailed to the owner of a couple of restaurants — non-smoking restaurants.  This owner passed the letter & flier to me saying he hopes the smoke-free ordinance passes.   Read for yourself:

Pro Smoking Letter & Flier

Alderman Lyda Krewson will introduce a bill tomorrow morning at the Board of Aldermen to clear the smoke in St. Louis.  One provision in the draft language has been removed —- the outdoor prohibition.  Smoke shops with a certain percentage of their sales from tobacco products will be exempted.  The revised language should be online next week.


Proposed Smoking Ban Ordinance for St. Louis City

Normally I’d not do another smoking related post so soon after the one earlier this week.  But, I agreed to publish the proposed ordinance to ban smoking in the City Of St. Louis.  28th Ward Alderman Lyda Krewson sent along the following note with the draft board bill:

Attached is a draft of a proposed smoke free air ordinance I plan to introduce soon.

I hope you will consider joining me in this effort.  Most states already have smoke free air legislation, including our neighbors, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska & Arkansas… and of course, well known places such as California, New York, France and Ireland.

The following link gives a quick map and summary of the current laws in the U.S.  All but 15 states have some form of smoking ban, to provide smoke free air.


Many think this legislation should be done at the state level, and frankly I agree.  But Missouri is unlikely to move this forward.  Many legislators consider it a ‘city issue’.  Kansas City, Columbia, Kirksville, Nixa and others already have a broad smoking ban.

It seems clear to me that Mo’s largest city needs to provide leadership on this issue!

The science is clear… second hand smoke causes or exacerbates a wide range of adverse health effects, including cancer, respiratory infections, and asthma.  Banning smoking in public work environments is about the health of workers… not about smokers.  About smoke… not smokers.    It is a health safety issue, not a social issue.

The attached draft Board Bill says that  it will become effective in the City, when St Louis County passes a similar ordinance. I am not interested in creating an advantage/disadvantage for a city vs. county establishment.  Let’s take the leadership role on this. Maybe we can move the whole state?

I look forward to our discussions about this ordinance.  The pressure not to do it will be heavy…   I hope you will join me in this effort.

Thanks Lyda

Lyda Krewson
28th Ward Alderman

314-231-7318 (work)
314 607 3452 (cell)

You can view a PDF of the proposed bill here.  One of the most important clauses is on the last page:

This Ordinance shall be effective on such date that a similar smoking ban ordinance becomes effective in St. Louis County, Missouri.

So we can pass the ordinance in the city but until St. Louis County passes a similar bill we will keep things as is.  This prevents the challenge of city establishments losing customers to the county.  Read the language and share your thoughts in the comments section because Alderman Krewson will be reading them.


Go Smoke-Free, Get Free Advertising

Used to be I had to make sure that, as a vegetarian, I could get something besides a salad when eating out.  Now, my first question about a place is not about the quality of the food, the variety of the menu or the location.  It is whether or not they allow smoking — which ruins it for me if they do.

A recent post (A Smoke-Free Vacation) prompted the following response from a reader:

I’m always a little stunned at this conversation.  40% of St Louis establishments are completely smoke-free.  A vast majority of the rest either restrict it and/or ventilate it.  There are plenty of choices for people who hate smoke, people who smoke and those that don’t care.

I[t] would be a rarity to have to deal with smoke in a dining area St Louis Restaurant.

Read the non-smoking restaurant lists and you’ll find lots of McDonald’s, Subway shops, grocery store deli counters and such.  Not exactly my idea of a nice Friday night dinner out.  Using the “near me” feature on my Urban Spoon iPhone app I get a long list of restaurants downtown but only a handful are smoke-free.  Many of those aren’t even  open for dinner.  Of the non-chain places for dinner in the City of St. Louis too few are smoke-free.

I recently turned down a free meal with a friend at Mike Shannon’s because they have indoor smoking.  I’m not a fan of turning down free food – especially expensive meals.  But I’m no longer going to go along just because a few folks can’t be indoors for a hour without feeding their addiction.  More on that later.

In response to a prior comment I listed the places I’d like to see go smoke-free.  Below is an expanded alphabetical list of nearly 20 places where I have eaten in the past that I’d like to see go smoke-free so I can return:

  • Chimichanga
  • City Diner
  • Joe Boccardi’s Ristorante
  • Joanie’s Pizzeria
  • Mangia
  • Mi Ranchito
  • Mike Shannon’s
  • Mokabe’s Coffeehouse
  • Scottish Arms
  • Soulard Coffee Garden
  • Stable
  • Square One Brewery
  • Tap Room
  • Three Monkeys
  • Triumph Grill
  • Tucker’s Place
  • Vito’s

You’ll note most of these have non-smoking sections but smoke doesn’t know how to stay out of adjacent spaces.

Here are a couple of places I’ve not tried but won’t because they have indoor smoking:

  • Herbie’s Vintage
  • William Shakespeare’s

In total it is a pretty long list.  Too long.  So I’ve got an offer for the owners/managers of these establishments.  Go smoke-free and I’ll give you free advertising.  The first one will get a year’s worth, second gets 9 months, third gets 6 months and the fourth gets 3 months.  The establishment must remain smoke-free to continue receiving free advertising.  The entire indoor space must be smoke-free.  Go smoke-free and I’ll help publicize your decision.  Will I get any takers?

Back to the addiction.  My parents were smokers.   In the 80s my dad quite cold turkey.  My mom struggled to quit for 20 years.  Smoking was not a primary factor in their passing, old age was.  I saw, first hand, with them, how addictive smoking can be.  I know many smokers. I would imagine that most would like to be former smokers.  But quitting is not a simple matter.

Often the addicted has an enabler that feeds the addiction — making it that much more difficult to break free.  The “freedom” folks out there enable smokers – ensuring the many places they visit will have other smokers.  So even the person who wants to quit is constantly surrounded by smokers feeding their own addiction.  Giving their brain the nicotine it craves.  The persons talking about protecting the rights of the smokers are really the ones helping to keep the smoker addicted.  They don’t have the strength to quit so they don’t want others to be able to quit.  Misery loves company.

If you own or manage one of the above restarants I’d love to hear from you.  Say your smoking place in the city isn’t on my list but you are contemplating  to go smoke-free, I’ll pretend you were on the list and give you free advertising if you are one of the first four.  This offer expires at the end of June, 2009.