Some businesses vowing to defy smoking ban

With the Northwestern Health Unit having told district businesses to “butt out” in the New Year or face some hefty fines, some local restaurants and bars have agreed to ban smoking while a few others just aren’t budging.
“As of the first of January, we’re going smoke-free in the lounge,” said Red Dog Inn manager Dianna Engstrom.
Engstrom said while the coffee shop and dining room at the Red Dog went smoke-free back in July, it took a little longer to decide to also implement a no smoking policy in the lounge there.
“We’re probably going to lose some revenue. There are some people that come here just to smoke,” she noted. “We’re going to wait to see how business goes.
You have to watch your revenues, but you don’t want to be fined, either.”
Meanwhile, many local restaurants—the first being Robin’s Donuts, and followed shortly thereafter by A&W, Pizza Hut, Kentucky Fried Chicken, and Lee Garden, among others—went smoke-free over the summer.
Rory Flinders of A&W said the decision to implement the policy hasn’t really hurt business there.
“It was hard to say at first because of the storms around that time of the year, and all that,” he noted. “But for this time of the year, it’s business as usual.”
Flinders added the fact so many restaurants went smoke-free at about the same time resulted in a level playing field among potential competitors.
But one non-bar owner who said she’s unwilling to bow down before the health unit is Barb Stainke, who has owned and operated the Bonnie Blue on Scott Street along with her husband, Chris, since 1999.
“We’re hoping the smokers rally around at least one place in town,” Stainke said yesterday. “The legislation [Health Protection and Promotion Act] that they’re talking about and trying to use to justify this is bogus.
“If he’s [Dr. Pete Sarsfield] going to act against us, he’s going to have to fine Abitibi and go after car emissions. There’s a lot of pollutants as dangerous as second-hand smoke,” added Stainke.
“If nobody stands up against this guy, what’s it going to be next? Caffeine, sugar?”
Stainke noted she’s an avid “non-smoker”—and even suffers from asthma—but the Bonnie Blue has maintained its smoking policy ever since it opened its doors to appease its customer base, which has grown as more and more other coffee spots go smoke-free here.
“We don’t promote it, there’s no ash trays on the tables unless they ask for them. And we don’t allow underage smokers,” she said. “I’d like to eventually get a good ventilation system.
“But right now, we’re staying as we are. We’ll probably see the $5,000 fine and it’ll sink us, but somebody has to take a stand,” Stainke vowed.
On the other side of the hospitality business coin, Larry Syrovy, owner of the Rainy Lake Hotel, prohibited smoking in the dining room there back in July, but noted he isn’t prepared to extend that policy to the bar area.
“I think that the people who go to the bar can make up their own minds,” he remarked. “Most people who go out to the bar smoke, and even if they don’t normally, they might smoke after having a few drinks.
“It would be a tremendous detriment to my business. And people who don’t like smoking in the bar right now just don’t come here,” he added.
“Everybody is allowing smoking in the bars. I’ve talked to other business owners in town, and in Dryden and Kenora, and we don’t believe there’s any law against it.
“There’s people’s rights to think about here. If they’re responsible for how much alcohol they consume, and what they do after the bar, they’re responsible for being in a environment where smoking is allowed,” he reasoned.
But Syrovy noted he has every intention to keep the restaurant smoke-free.
“We saw a reduction in business for the first few months,” he admitted. “Some people don’t come here because they can’t smoke, a few others come here now because they wouldn’t have before. But business is probably down 10-15 percent.
“But I agree that in the dining room, it’s the right thing to do. There are children there who can’t decide where they go,” he continued. “It’s no question smoke is bad for non-smokers, well, for everyone. Before, the people who don’t smoke didn’t have a choice if they came to the dining room.
Likewise, Joelle Blanc of La Place Rendez-Vous said yesterday that establishment also isn’t planning on going smoke-free in the lounge, lobby, or conference/banquet rooms—the latter of which always have been smoke-free or not at the discretion of those who rent them.
“We’ve talked about it and it would probably hurt business too much,” she noted, adding the decision wasn’t made without first confirming with other businesses, such as the Rainy Lake Hotel, Warp 9, and the Emo Inn, that they also were going to continue to allow smoking on their premises.
The health unit inspectors, who have received training on handling the levying of fines, will be acting under the instruction of Dr. Sarsfield, who declared second-hand smoke a health hazard back in late February.
On the grounds of it being on par with any other health hazard the health unit may be responsible for preventing, Dr. Sarsfield has given businesses the ultimatum of butting out or facing the consequences—a court-ordered ban and hefty fine, ranging from $5,000 for small businesses to $25,000 for corporations.
All businesses in the Kenora-Rainy River districts were ordered to be prepared to disallow smoking in their establishments by the New Year back in June.
Dr. Sarsfield stipulated that municipalities served by the Northwestern Health Unit had to respond to him by May 31 with their intentions as to what they will do about the health hazard (i.e., establish bylaws banning smoking in all enclosed public places).
Only two municipalities—Ear Falls and La Vallee—have opted to comply so far.