BLOOMINGTON - A group of Twin City bar/restaurant owners says a smoking ban is the equivalent of government telling them how to run their business.
And, they say, it could run their business right into the ground.
"Business will decline," said Tom Hubbard, owner of Cheeks in Bloomington. "The public should rule. They'll let us know what they want; they always have and always will."
Several restaurant/bar owners in the group have done their own survey to find out how customers feel about a proposed public place smoking ban being considered by the Bloomington and Normal city councils.
Bob Groetken, owner of Schooners, surveyed about 1,500 customers - 60 percent of whom don't smoke. An overwhelming majority of all those surveyed said it should be up to business owners, not local government, to keep or ban smoking from their establishments.
Scott Tuggle, owner of Ride the Nine/Shooters in Bloomington and Kicks in Towanda, also took a one-day survey at Kicks on Jan. 27. It showed 75 of the 88 customers who responded support letting businesses decide the issue.
"Sure, these surveys are all from our places, but these are our customers," Groetken said. "Our customers have rights, too."
Hubbard said Bloomington Alderman Jim Finnegan summed it up at Monday's joint work session of the two councils when he urged residents to "let their feet do the voting." Finnegan said residents who don't want to eat at a restaurant that allows smoking should leave and tell the owners why.
But the group is willing to compromise.
Hubbard advocated using color-coded signs on the doors of bars and restaurants. Red stickers would tell patrons smoking is allowed; green would signify a smoke-free establishment; and yellow would indicate there is a non-smoking dining section available.
While the group acknowledges that smoking can cause serious health problems, Phil Boules, owner of Mugsy's Pub in Bloomington, said "the non-smokers have brainwashed the public" when it comes to the effects of secondhand smoke.
He cited a study that found if an employee works in a smoking environment eight hours a day for a year, the secondhand smoke exposure would be the equivalent of smoking 6.6 cigarettes. Boules, a nonsmoker, said if secondhand smoke is as harmful as some suggest, bar owners like him would have lung cancer or be "coughing up a storm."
Mike Lynch, who has helped the owners research the topic, said the Occupational Safety & Health Administration studied the effect of secondhand smoke in the early 1990s and found there was no need to regulate it because exposures don't exceed permitted levels.
If a smoking ban is enacted in Bloomington, Jan Lancaster, president of the Downtown Bar Owners Association, envisions it prompting other problems.
"You've got 17 bars, and imagine all the people out in downtown on a Friday and Saturday night," said Lancaster, who owns two downtown establishments, the Bistro and Lancaster's. "Half of the people would leave the bars for a smoke break. That is a lot more noise on the street, and downtown residents already have problems with some of the bars being too noisy."
The group plans to take its views to a town hall meeting at 7 p.m. Monday at the Normal Theater and a public input meeting before the Bloomington City Council at 6 p.m. Feb. 13.