Smoking ban hurts C-U bars, businesses



By Patrick Wade

When Patrick Callaghan and other cigar smokers showed up at the Esquire Lounge Wednesday night for the tavern’s “First Wednesday Smoker,” they were forced to the outdoor patio to brave frigid February temperatures.

This is the first time the Esquire Lounge, 106 N. Walnut St., has hosted its monthly smoking event since Champaign’s Clean Indoor Air ordinance went into effect Jan. 31. The ordinance bans smoking inside public places, including bars and restaurants – a law that Callaghan said is hurting many Champaign businesses.

“The ‘Polar Bear Smoker,’ we’re going to call it,” said Callaghan, owner of Jon’s Pipe Shop, 509 E. Green St., who also helps organize the event at the Esquire Lounge.

Callaghan said that normally 30 to 50 people show up to smoke cigars at the lounge on the first Wednesday of every month, but he did not expect more than 10 to come Wednesday night.

“And these people that show up are just going to be the guys that want to do it for just for a lark, just because it’s silly,” Callaghan said.

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Bob Osiek, owner of the Esquire Lounge, said that he expects to take a hit from the new smoking ban.

“I think myself and my employees are going to see an economic impact that is not positive,” Osiek said.

The Esquire Lounge is only one of a number of Champaign bars and restaurants feeling the adverse effects of the ordinance.

Eric Meyer, owner of Kam’s, 618 Daniel St., and two downtown Champaign bars, said that since the ordinance has gone into effect, his businesses have been experiencing as much as a 30 percent decrease in sales.

“We’ve already seen an increase in customers going to other communities, Savoy for example, and establishments that aren’t covered by any smoking ban,” Meyer said.

Kam’s has not been experiencing as dramatic a drop-off as Meyer’s downtown bars because Kam’s has an outdoor beer garden where smokers can go to light up a cigarette. This eliminates the inconvenience of trying to re-enter the bar.

“(The beer garden) is an advantage because people don’t have to leave the establishment and go outside and be re-carded and stand back in line,” he said.

Meyer’s off-campus bars, however, do not have a convenient outlet for smokers which means an early exit for bar-goers.

“When it comes time to smoke a cigarette, when they go outside to smoke, they jump in their cars and leave,” Meyer said.

Jon’s Pipe Shop, Callaghan’s campus tobacco products store, has also experienced decreased sales. Callaghan said now that nearly all indoor options are out, customers choose not to buy tobacco, especially students who live in University residence halls.

Dennis Lewart, vice president of C-U Smokefree Alliance, said that it is important to consider the rights of non-smokers.

“It’s just like I have the right to swing my fist, but that right ends at your nose,” Lewart said. “Smokers have the right to smoke as long as it does not harm anyone else.”

Lewart said that the C-U Smokefree Alliance has been working to get this ordinance passed in both Champaign and Urbana since September of 2003, and it is a victory for the community now that smoking bans are in effect in both cities.

Champaign Mayor Gerald Schweighart said that he does not think the ordinance is a positive step for the city. He is concerned especially about the economic effects and does not believe that it necessarily improves public health.

“I never did buy into the science that was presented at some of the meetings on the effects of secondhand smoke,” Schweighart said. “I don’t think it’s ever been proven that there have been any deaths from secondhand smoke.”

Mike Rumbaugh, freshman in LAS, said that although he smokes and attends bars once or twice a week, he still thinks the smoking ban is a good idea.

“I think that non-smokers should have the freedom to go out and enjoy themselves without compromising their health,” Rumbaugh said. “I think this whole issue is going to die down once the warmer months come and the patios open up.”

Osiek said that while believes the ordinance makes sense for restaurants, he thinks the decision should be left to bar owners.

“It’s a little different in a tavern. People don’t come here to drink carrot juice and eat lettuce, they come to be entertained and relax,” he said.