Employees at Wally’s Bar and Grill had an extra side job before the restaurant opened on Thursday morning. They pulled ashtrays from the tables and hung “No Smoking” signs on the door.
It wasn’t something Wally Borth, the restaurant’s owner, wanted to do, but he had no choice due to a Kansas law that went into effect July 1. Under the new law, smoking is prohibited in most commercial businesses.
“I think it’s an infringement on smoker’s rights,” said Borth, who does not smoke. “We spent money to build these establishments, and we’re the ones who should be able to pick and choose who we serve.”
When Borth opened Wally’s Bar and Grill more than 11 years ago, he spent additional money installing an air cleaning system designed to clean the smoky air and re-circulate cleaner air into the restaurant. As little as two years ago, he spent $1,600 upgrading the system.
That’s money now wasted, Borth explained. He also worries he’ll lose business thanks to the change in the law. The establishment typically experiences a mini-rush in the late afternoon.
Many are smokers looking for a quick drink after work.
Darrell Davenport, a regular Wally’s customer, smokes. He’s retired and typically stops by the bar in the late afternoon – sometimes staying for hours.
“It’s really not right,” Davenport said of the ban.
He drives from Olathe to visit with friends and staff at Wally’s.
“He picked this place,” Borth said. “Now he has to go someplace else.”
He’ll probably continue to stop in with the law change, Borth said, but he’s unlikely to stay for hours at a time.
Instead, Davenport said, he may go to the VFW.
Private clubs – like VFWs and American Legions – are exempt from the smoking ban as are state-run casinos (On Wednesday afternoon, a Shawnee County judge also temporarily exempted 31 Kansas businesses that received operating permits after Jan. 31, 2009 pending the conclusion of a lawsuit).
That’s unfair, Borth said.
“(Legislators) need to put everyone on the same playing field,” he said.
There’s also the issue of enforcement. The law allows for fines of up to $100 on first violation and up to $500 on a third offense. Both owners and smokers can be penalized under the law, but local law enforcement isn’t exactly certain how enforcement will work.
Deputy Tom Erickson, public information officer for the Johnson County Sheriff’s Department, said the department is still examining exactly how enforcement will work.
“To put it in pretty standard terms, we enforce the laws that are made,” he said. “I couldn’t tell you exactly how that’s going to operate.”
Ilena Spalding, Gardner Public Safety public information officer, said Gardner officers will not be issuing citations. They’ll respond to complaints from business owners and from customers and then forward reports to the district attorney’s office for possible prosecution. Spalding said bar and restaurant owners received instructions from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment about how to handle the new law.
Borth said the packet of information encouraged owners to have meetings to encourage employees to stop smoking. The law also requires business owners to adopt a formal non-smoking policy. KDHE’s packet even included a sample policy for their consideration.
“Those employees who smoke and would like to take this opportunity to quit are invited to call the Kansas Tobacco Quitline for telephone cessation counseling and support,” a portion of the sample policy reads.
Borth said he doesn’t mind offering employees information about quitting smoking, but he concerned the new law will cost him as well as the government revenue. He said friends who own bars and restaurants in cities with smoking bans have told him the bans resulted in decreased liquor sales. That also means less liquor tax, which includes additional taxes that directly benefit parks.
“I think it’s going to cost the taxpayers money,” Borth said.
It’s also going to cost Borth money. He’ll be spending money to build an outdoor patio where people can smoke at his restaurant.
And then there’s his own restaurant’s bottom line.
“If we lose any of our beer business because of (the smoking ban), it could hurt,” Borth said. “It could cause us the possibility of closing our doors. That’s blood on the government’s hands.”