OCEAN CITY – The smoke may have cleared, but the argument certainly hasn’t.
It’s been almost a year since the Clean Indoor Air Act took effect last Feb. 1, banning smoking inside of restaurants and bars, and leaving smokers statewide literally outside looking in.
Since then, some local businesses have tried to cater to their smoking clientele by building outdoor smoking lounges on their existing properties, while others had to essentially bite the bullet and work with what they had.
“It was a tough year, said Buxy’s Salty Dog owner Doug Buxbaum. “We would have liked to build an outdoor smoking area like some other establishments, but we couldn’t afford to lose the parking.”
Buxbaum said that there was no drastic change in the amount of business but there was a noticeable change in clientele.
“We definitely saw some new faces or some faces which we haven’t seen in awhile which is great, but we did lose some of those customers that came in every day and enjoyed a beer and a cigarette during happy hour,” he said.
Though the Clean Air Act was passed in efforts to make Maryland restaurants a healthier environment for consumers and employees by eliminating the dangerous secondhand smoke that once was a big part of some establishment’s atmosphere, the change seems to have been accepted and adapted to with little uproar.
According to Susan Jones, executive director of the Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association, the lack of response concerning the smoke-free environments has been slightly surprising.
“Ironically, I haven’t heard a whole lot from business owners or visitors about the Clean Indoor Air Act, but no news might mean it’s good news. I think both owners and diners have adjusted with little impact,” she said.
The one complaint that Buxbaum did mention about the Clean Indoor Air Act is that it allows smoking in restaurants and bars that are considered to be partially outdoor bars.
“I still feel and there are many other establishments in town that feel the same way, that it’s an un-level playing field as some places have open areas with open air and smoking is still allowed there. I just wish it was an across-the-board smoking ban,” said Buxbaum.
Brian Acquavella, manager of the seasonal and partially outdoor bar and restaurant Macky’s Bayside Bar and Grill, said the perception of an advantage was far greater than any advantage there might have been.
“Honestly, there was no glaringly obvious benefit because I can’t recall anyone asking to sit outside simply so they could smoke,” he said. “I think by the time summer came around, people knew the law and had already adjusted to it because it’s commonplace now.”
Acquavella also added that most smokers, despite being technically able to smoke in the open-air portions of Macky’s, still congregated toward the front of the building anyway.
“Unless it was raining, most people just went out front out of common courtesy for the people around them. There are a lot of families that probably came out and stayed out later because of the lack of smoke in an establishment because a lot of families are extremely health conscious now,” he said.
Keith Raffensberger, a bartender at the Galaxy 66, which boasts a rooftop bar, said that he didn’t see much of a change in business either.
“The only change that I really saw is how my clothes didn’t reek of smoke at the end of my shift,” he said. “There may have been people that went and ate on the rooftop so they could smoke, but it was never a mass congregation of smokers just because they could.”
A study done by the Journal of the American Medical Association found that a waitress working an eight-hour shift in a smoky bar or restaurant was exposed to the equivalent of 16 cigarettes per day in secondhand smoke, and the same study found that waitresses have a higher rate of heart and lung disease than any other occupation held by females.
There are currently 24 states that require restaurants to be smoke-free and 18 states require bars to be smoke free, including Delaware, who constituted a statewide ban in 2002.
After the bill was passed in 2002, a statewide survey showed that nine out of 10 people said that they were just as likely or more likely to dine out in a smoke-free restaurant and eight out of 10 people said the same for bars in Delaware.
Robbie Rosenblitt, co-owner of the Party Block, was able to cater to his smoking clientele this past summer with the outdoor bar and the newly installed outdoor pool bar. Yet, Rosenblitt said that there was little gain other than the gains to his customers.
“It was really a non-issue for us, as there wasn’t enough of a change for it to be considered an advantage, but it certainly was a convenience for our smoking clientele,” he said.
As the year anniversary of the Clean Indoor Air Act passes in three weeks, area establishments are still finding new ways to cater to their smoking clientele all while evaluating what the absence of cigarette smoke has done for their business.
“I will say that we’ve gotten an awful lot of compliments from the restaurant side of Buxy’s,” said Buxbaum.