Sunday, July 29, 2007

Smoke 'em if You've Got 'em

Considering what happened when Carbondale passed an underage bar entry ban a decade or so ago, the upcoming smoking ban certainly has the potential to really hurt the bar business in Carbondale.

Long-time residents of Carbondale should remember the bar entry age ban passed by the City Council during the late 90s. Basically, if you weren't old enough to drink you couldn't go into a bar in Carbondale. I taught marketing at SIUC at the time so, for a research project, my students and I counted foot traffic along the Strip the weekend before the ban went into place and for three weekends afterward. We counted both Friday and Saturday nights, from 10 p.m. until 2 a.m.

The number of people along the Strip dropped about 45% from the weekend before the ban to the weekend after and stayed at that level the following 2 weekends. A follow up count two months later showed foot traffic still off about 40%. Anecdotally, I heard a number of stories from students about private bars built in the basements of houses rented by students. One students estimated there were at least 20 of these private bars in the area between S. University and S. Poplar. I haven't done or seen any more recent research since then, but I have not seen foot traffic during those hours approach anything close to what it was pre-ban.

I don't think the exodus will be as drastic as that caused by the underage drinking ban, since smoking has declined in the US by small but steady percentages over the past decade. However, I would expect to see creation of private "smoking lounges" in homes and a corresponding drop off in bar traffic.

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