Features
9:09 am
Sun March 31, 2013

More Atlanta Bars Go Smoke Free, Cite Business Pressures

A statewide law bans smoking in most indoor, public places. 

In Atlanta, that ban even applies to parks.  But efforts over the years to extend a ban to include bars and nightclubs have failed.

To hear the story aired on WABE's Weekend Edition Sunday, click the play icon above.

One reason: bar and club owners say their business would suffer. 

For the first time, Manuel's Tavern in the Virginia-Highland neighborhood is going smoke-free.
Credit Jim Burress / WABE News

That’s what Brian Maloof said in 2005 when lawmakers were considering banning indoor smoking state-wide.

“We opposed it,” said Maloof, who owns Manuel’s Tavern.  “I was down there myself speaking out against it—an individual business rights to make a decision on their own.  And the legislature came to that decision.” 

As the place opens for lunch, a few regulars trickle in. 

On the bar sit black plastic ash trays.  But their days are numbered. 

Ash trays sit on the bar at Manuel's Tavern, but not for long. Owner Brian Maloof says customer demand means the establishment is going smoke-free no later than next year.
Credit Jim Burress / WABE News

Maloof says there’s been a shift.  Business is suffering because of Manuel’s smoking policy.

“I know definitely in January of 2014, we’ll be 100% smoke-free,” he says.

Maloof says fewer people were booking events, and he noticed fewer families coming in. 

Bill McCloskey’s worked here for decades.  And he says that’s going to be a welcomed change.

“This has always been a family type bar,” says McCloskey as he enjoys a plate of chicken wings and fries. “We need to keep the kids coming in with their folks to have lunch and dinner.  What you’ve got to do, you’ve got to do.”

Despite making the choice to go smoke-free, Manuel’s owner says he doesn’t support a city or county-wide ban. 

And, for now, it doesn’t appear one is in the works.  

“Not at this time,” says Atlanta City Councilman Alex Wan, who helped push a smoking ban last summer that prohibits smoking in public parks. 

It easily passed. 

That led some to question why the city prohibited smoking outdoors, but still allowed it indoors. 

“One of the main drivers in that was the fact that we were investing so heavily in equipment and assets for children in parks. It was done, in part, to protect them,” says Wan.

Wan says he is interested in exploring a comprehensive ban.

DeKalb County Commissioner Larry Johnson opposed a comprehensive ban last year, citing bar and nightclub owners’ concern that business would suffer.  He did not return WABE’s calls. 

But in the past few weeks, a handful of bars catering to Atlanta’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender clientele announced changes to their smoking policies.

In a previous interview, DeKalb district health director Dr. Elizabeth Ford said smoke free ordinances can actually help business.

“There are certain businesses that would be attracted by a county that is smoke-free.”

According to no-smoke.org, only four Georgia municipalities have a full ban.  They’re: Savannah, Chatham County (which includes Savannah), Morrow, and Buena Vista—a town of a few thousand near Columbus.  (Update: Athens/Clarke Co. also has a comprehensive smoking ban, according to Kelly Girtz, District 9 Commissioner.) 

Would you support a smoking ban that includes bars?  Give us your thoughts in our Facebook poll.