HEALTH CARE: No smoking, please

TRAVERSE CITY – Business owners in the Grand Traverse region are tops in the state for helping to clear the air. With more than 100 smoke-free restaurants and more than 30 smoke-free hotels and motels, this area has the most no-smoking facilities in Michigan.

The Grand Traverse County Tobacco Task Force has been working with area businesses for the past three years, encouraging and helping them make the switch to a smoke-free environment.

The task force formed in 1994 in response to then-new state legislation requiring all restaurants be 50 percent smoke-free. The group began contacting all dining establishments by letter, asking owners to implement a no-smoking policy.

“We said, ‘Why not go 100 percent smoke-free?'” said Bonnie Willings, health educator for the Grand Traverse County Health Department and coordinator of the tobacco task force’s steering committee.

That initial letter was followed up by phone calls, ready to answer questions such as, “How do I do it?” and “How will it affect my business?”

Willings said the task force provided businesses with information showing the effects of going smoke-free.

“We have studies which show, at the very least, that going smoke-free has not detracted from the business,” Willings said. “In fact, it has shown a slight increase.”

For the most part, she added, smokers remain patrons of the particular restaurant and new customers are attracted to the smoke-free atmosphere.

It was about five years ago that the owners of Poppycock’s, Mark and Josie Butzier, were wrestling with the smoking issue.

“We don’t have separate rooms and we had smoking tables in the back and non-smoking tables in the front,” Mark Butzier said of the downtown Traverse City restaurant. “The smoke would linger and we didn’t have proper ventilation.”

As the business grew, a line of people would form at the door with only smoking tables available. It was obvious to him that something needed to change. But before Butzier implemented a no-smoking policy, he tried allowing smoking during lunch, but prohibiting it during dinner for a few months after receiving his liquor license.

“But it interferred with what we were trying to do with our food,” he said. “We have some interesting flavors and smoke inhibits the senses.”

Butzier said 95 percent of Poppycock’s customers are in favor of the non-smoking atmosphere, adding that the restaurant was one of the first downtown to be smoke-free.

“It’s worked,” he said. “It’s been all positive.”

He’s provided a breakroom downstairs for employees who smoke. Or they can go outside.

Willings noted a large number of the restaurants made the smoke-free switch after the first contact by the task force.

“It’s at the point now, where businesses are calling us about it,” she said.

Unlike restaurants, hotels and motels aren’t required by any state law to make a portion of the facility smoke-free, but many do prohibit smoking in public areas and have a number of non-smoking guest rooms.

The Bayshore Resort in Traverse City opened its doors in 1994 with a total restriction on smoking. It was a decision the owners made as they were trying to decide which rooms to make smoke-free and were having a difficult time because of the various types of rooms offered, said hotel general manager, Roger Funkhouser.

“It has worked very well,” Funkhouser said. “People really appreciate that wherever they go, even the beach, there is no smoking.”

Funkhouser estimates that the smoke-free policy excludes about 25 percent of the guest market. But the demand by non-smoking guests has been very strong.

“People looking for a smoke-free environment try to find something they are going to enjoy,” Funkhouser said. “A good portion of our guests seek us out, and then pass the word on to friends.”

Because there is no smoking allowed anywhere on the premises, employees are asked to smoke only in their cars or when they leave the property on break, Funkhouser added.

Willings said one of the most frequent comments she hears from business owners who’ve implemented a smoke-free policy is how much their cleaning costs have decreased.

According to data provided by the tobacco task force, businesses that establish smoke-free policies report saving up to 50 percent on cleaning expenses.

Key to setting off a successful smoke-free policy is getting the word out, Willings said. The task force has provided signs to smoke-free establishments to help make the public aware.

“The first thing we tell businesses is to advertise, advertise, advertise,” she said. “Let people know you are smoke-free in the interest of public health. Don’t hide it.”

Willings added that the general public can be very persuasive in getting businesses to provide non-smoking atmospheres.

“It takes the public input to encourage the change,” she said. “We do have a lot of influence, but we tend not to speak up.”

The tobacco task force is currently printing the third edition of the smoke-free guide. New to the publication are 15 restaurants and one bed and breakfast.