Smoking snuffed out in bars

As of Wednesday, bar patrons will be able to go home after a night out without having the smell of cigarette smoke on their clothes.

But the newfound liberty for bar goers also comes at the cost of some of the freedom of bar and restaurants owners who can no longer offer a place for smokers to light a cigarette.

After a long back and forth battle, the issue of a smoking ban in bars and restaurants in South Dakota was put on the Nov. 2 ballot for the voters to decide its fate.

The result wasn't even close as over 204,000 voters chose to go with the smoking ban, a resounding 64 percent.

Grant Sammelson owns The Varsity in downtown Vermillion, which has been smoke free since last February, but even he was surprised by the outcome.

"I thought it would be closer honestly," he said.

The smoking ban won't affect The Varsity as much as other bars and restaurants in town since it is already smoke free.

Just down Main Street is one of the few bars that will be affected – the Charcoal Lounge.

Tom French, who owns the Charcoal, said he knew the ban would come to South Dakota eventually.

"The way things are going, it was bound to happen sooner or later," he said. "We were one of the last states to go, so I guess we are just filing suit with everyone else."

All around South Dakota, states have already passed smoking bans. Nebraska passed one a couple of years ago, and Iowa and Minnesota both have bans in place.

"I think it's probably a good thing for the state; every other state around us has done it," said French of the ban. "I don't agree with the government telling me what I can and cannot do, though. Since it went through, I guess the state will have to agree with it; it's the people's choice."

The smoking ban will affect a considerable amount of South Dakota customers. Even though the ban passed with a 64 percent margin, over 110,000 people voted no on the ban, leaving many smokers the inability to smoke when they go out.

French said he has heard both sides of the argument.

"I have heard people say they are excited they aren't going to have to take a shower now before bed," he said. "I have also heard people who say they aren't going to come down now because of it. I think a few will sit at home and drink, but you can only sit at home so long before you get bored."

While the smoking ban could take customers away from his business, French said he isn't too concerned.

"I don't think it will hurt my business a lot; it's mostly college kids and most of them don't smoke," he said. "It will have an impact, but I think it will come back rather quickly once people realize its statewide and all around us."

Cherry Street Grille's owner Jon Robertson doesn't have the same outlook as French.

The Cherry Street Grille is divided, with one portion of the restaurant designated as a smoking section, with the remainder being smoke-free. But the middle of the Grille has no seating, allowing for a wide space between the two sections.

"The Grille is in a unique position, and other places aren't always the same way," Robertson said. "I have had several of our non-smoking customers talk to us and say they can't smell it."

"We are well ventilated, and I don't feel they are bothered," he added.

The Grille is also smoke free on Saturdays and Sundays from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. because of the family crowd the restaurant attracts, Robertson said.

Robertson said the smoking ban will affect his business the most at lunchtime.

"I have a fair amount of construction workers that come in because they can smoke, which means wherever they are in town or close to the area, they will stop and come here because they can smoke here," he said. "With the ban, I am worried they will pick whatever place is the closest now."

Robertson said the smoking ban will affect both smoking and non-smoking businesses.

"Bunyans has a good amount of clientle that is smoking, and I think they will be negatively affected," he said. "The Roadhouse has been smoke free, and I think they will get hurt because people went there because it was smoke free. Now that everyplace is smoke free, people will have a variety, and I think the Roadhouse will be affected in the opposite way I am."

But Dan Pearson, Roadhouse's manager, doesn't have the same worry as Robertson.

"I don't really have a problem with it; we have the reputation and we aren't exactly a bar," he said. "Usually they go to another bar anyway."

The kicker in the fact that the Roadhouse is smoke free – Pearson is a smoker.

"I don't really have a problem with it; I think it's good people can go out and not have to worry about smoking," he said. "I think some businesses will lose a few people that aren't able to smoke, but in the end, it's just going to hurt tobacco."

Sammelson's bar may be the litmus test in how things will go with the smoking ban.

The Varsity went smoke free for last year's Super Bowl.

"Our business has been down since we became smoke free, but it's coming back now," he said. "The biggest reason we did it was to give people a choice, and that's smoke free."

However, Sammelson said being a smoke-free bar should be up to the business owner, not something the state should decide.

"I believe it should be up to the businesses; we just have to learn how to deal with it and find ways to make a profit with no smoking," he said. "We have lost a few people, but we are seeing some new ones. Now that the smoking ban is up, we will see some of those that left come back I think."

The Cherry Street Grille is among the restaurants or bars that are adjusting to the new smoking ban as well.

Robertson said smokers made up for about a third or less of the customer count.

"We hate to lose any business, so that is disconcerting," he said. "Hopefully they keep coming back for the great food, prices and services.

"We do a good amount of business with non-smoking folks and they choose us," he added.

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