A little incentive to stop smoking
An all-out ban on restaurant smoking hasn't hit Atlanta, but the city council passed an ordinance Oct. 2 that might convince restaurants themselves to prohibit smoking. Under the ordinance, which still must be signed by Mayor Bill Campbell, restaurants that prohibit smoking will get a 20 percent discount on their business licenses for three years.
"The whole point was to give a choice and to give a positive incentive to ban smoking," says councilwoman Julia Emmons, who did not favor an all-out ban proposed a year ago. "The underlying concept is that the city promotes non-smoking, but we're not going to force you to do it.
Restaurant owners have until year's end to decide whether to go for no-smoke. Al Berry, a council research and policy analyst, says he hasn't yet heard reaction from restaurateurs.
"You'll really get a feel for it around January or so," Berry says.
The price of business licenses is based on a restaurant's gross receipts. Banning smoking can mean a few-hundred-dollar break for some restaurateurs and a several-thousand-dollar one for others.
If all eligible restaurants accepted the discount, Emmons says, it would cost the city close to $300,000. But not all will.
"We don't know how many will take them up on it," says Ralph Bilbrey, with the 800-member Georgia Restaurant Association.
Bilbrey notes that restaurants that opt for the discount will be able to allow smoking in adjoining bars so long as they install smoke exhaust systems.
He also says that since 25 percent of Atlanta restaurant-goers smoke, restaurant owners will have to determine whether the discount will offset the possible loss in revenue.
About 100 Atlanta restaurants already ban smoking, Bilbrey says, and for those on the cusp of such a prohibition, the incentive could sway them.
"But there are others that have so many smokers," Bilbrey says, "they won't give it another thought."