While it may be too early to predict the economic effect of banning smoking in bars and restaurants on Guam it is probable that such a ban would have a big impact on consumer habits local businessmen say.

Bill 16 and its amendment introduced by Sen. Lourdes A. Leon Guerrero would ban smoking in restaurants and bars if passed into law. The bill is awaiting its hearing with the Committee on Finance Taxation and Commerce chaired by Sen. Edward J.B. Calvo.

Ireland which passed a law to prohibit smoking in public houses in 2004 has seen an initial double-digit decline in business in those pubs leveling off at about 15% according to Damien Fallon general manager of Pacific Ventures Inc. which runs the Taco Bell/Long John Silver’s franchises on Guam. Fallon who is originally from Ireland said that smoking in pubs is an institution in that country and the ban changed the way that many people consumed alcohol.

“The decline was actually offset to a large degree by an increase in off-license sales which is the equivalent of liquor stores here ” Fallon said.

Ireland’s climate deterred people from leaving an establishment to smoke he said. “Ireland has the problem where the weather is typically a kind of mix with a damp coldness and it’s very very difficult for people to go outside even to smoke a cigarette. It’s nothing short of freezing. If you drive people out of pubs all the comfort is lost because of the weather.”

Trevor Adsett based in Singapore is customer director for Asia of Diageo whose imports to Guam include Johnnie Walker Gordon’s Gin Smirnoff Vodka J&B whisky and Tanqueray Gin. His customers on Guam include Island Wines and Spirits among other liquor importers.

Adsett told the Journal “If the proposal goes through I would think that it will affect their companies’ performance by about 10% to 15% and so have an implication on their companies’ taxable revenue as well as consideration to staff employment levels.”

Paul Shimizu general manager of Ambros Inc./Shimbros said that customers will find other ways to have a cigarette with their alcohol.

“They’ll actually look for somewhere else where they can do that ” Shimizu said. “When you start to limit customers’ choices they’ll find ways to do it elsewhere. They’ll probably still go to the establishments but they’ll find another place where they can go ahead and use tobacco products.”

Shimizu said that restaurants and bars that can provide outside smoking areas will do so to lessen the impact on their business but said that there will be an impact. “Businesses will be affected because they’re afraid that their regular customers will not patronize their establishments ” Shimizu said.

Both Shimizu and Fallon suggested an alternative: using a ventilation and air-conditioning system that doesn’t allow smoke to go into non-smoking sections.

“In this day and age of technology you can actually purify the air quite substantially even in the smoking section in a restaurant ” Fallon said. “There would be some costs associated. I’ve been in places in the mainland where you can be sitting in the smoking section and the smoke literally does not get out of it. That is another possibility to think of in terms of benefiting the Japanese first of all.”

Fallon said that not all businesses will be affected — the Taco Bell/Long John Silver’s restaurants for example have been smoke-free for three years without a negative impact.

“Ours is somewhat of a different business because people are in and out quickly ” he said. “In our Taco Bell in Tamuning it’s actually had a positive effect. First of all people can now bring their children to eat and not worry about it. We also get our fair share of health professionals and these people who are very health conscious tend to appreciate it more.”

Meanwhile education against tobacco use received a boost with the signing into law on June 3 of Public Law 28-40. The legislation extends the timeline set by Public Law 27-69 for the departments of public health and social services and mental health and substance abuse to develop programs to be funded by $1.5 million from the Tobacco Trust and Endowment Funds. MBJ