Some Salem bars are struggling to comply with the Smokefree Workplace Law that went into effect January 1st.
“We want to make it comfortable for smokers, who make up 90% of our customers, but we’ve faced difficulties from the city. It’s been a challenge, and a lot of check writing,” said Big Shots owner Don Boorman, who would’ve voted against the measure had it been up to business owners. The legislature installed the ban based on the rationale of protecting workers’ health.
“If the government was looking out for people’s health, they’d give you a free juicer,” complained customer Michael Edwards.
Gustav Anderson, a smoker at Kelli’s bar, expressed anger: “I feel like a dirty animal pushed outside! We lost a right, and they did it in the middle of the winter, and in the middle of the economic crisis!”
Before the ban “It didn’t smell bad because we invested $2000 on air purification systems every month.” Boorman said.
But even foregoing these expenses, the costs outweigh the benefits.
“We’ve experienced a significant loss of revenue directly because of the law. Video poker has dropped dramatically. Cigarette sales are down 95%. Ultimately, the state will lose revenue, and it will raise taxes,” Boorman said.
Jaime Quintero, a 50 West employee, also noticed a drop in video lottery. “Players came here to smoke and play. Now they can go to the casino and do the same thing.”
At the Westside Station, the prohibition is creating a safety hazard, according to manager Justin Resh. The bar is located directly off Edgewater Street, one of the most traveled roads in West Salem. On weekends, up to 200 people will go outside when the band goes on break.
“Business owners will have to spend more on security, and drink prices will go up,” said Resh, who believes the ban should be repealed. “I don’t smoke, but giving away our freedom of choice should be alarming to people.”
Some bars, such as Noble’s, have lost several customers.
April Sparks has been going out less since the ban went into effect.
“They need to reverse the ban. It was our only place left to socialize and smoke. Soon, they’ll tell us we can’t smoke in our cars or in our houses.”
However, Pete’s Place owner Karo Thom predicts that smokers will eventually get bored of staying home and will return to the bars. She foresees an overall increase in clientele at Pete’s. The oldest bar in Salem is undergoing a full transformation because of the smoking prohibition.
“Good food and smoke don’t mix,” said Thom. Pete’s will soon become “Pioneer Grill,” and will feature a new menu, offering late-night breakfast.”
Salem Police Department is not enforcing the ban. It is up to individuals to file a complaint with the state. Rule-breakers will receive a letter and educational materials upon a first complaint. Within 30 days of a second complaint, a state representative will visit the premises and develop a remediation plan to be completed within 15 days if the location is found to be in violation of the rule. If the business doesn’t comply in the following 30 days, the state may issue a notice to impose a maximum fine of $2000 a month.
These penalties “are up for individual interpretation,” said Kelly White, tobacco educator of the Marion County Health Department.
Despite the lax enforcement of regulations, Jammers was one of the only bars in town choosing to ignore the ban.
“I’m a rebel. Other bars just comply because they want to be upstanding citizens,” said a Jammers employee.
“What Jammers is doing is a slap in the face to the rest of us who are trying to abide by the law,” said Thom.
Jammers was reported to the Health Department by other competing bars.
“They didn’t want to lose customers who came here because they had the freedom to smoke,” said Jammers employee Laurajean Riches.
On January 22nd, the rebellion was over at Jammers when a video lottery representative threatened to withdraw the machines if the bar continued to allow smoking.
“We had hoped the lottery would fight on the behalf of business owners, but they chose to side with the state. Up to this point, we were willing to pay the fines. We were willing to stick out for what we believed in,” said another Jammers employee.
“The law is meant to protect workers and most of our employees are smokers. Nobody asked the employees; the decision was made for them. As a non-smoking employee, I would prefer it if there were smokers in here, as opposed to nobody. It would’ve been nice to have the option to obtain a permit,” said Riches.
“This is a fascist law!” a Jammers customer overhearing the conversation yelled out.
Jammers is in the process of building a smoking area to be ready by SuperBowl. It will feature a fire pit, leather sofas, heaters, TV’s, and music.