Jan 6, 2011
Lobbyist press release passed off as news spins the effect of the smoking ban
It’s expected that trade groups and lobbyists will spin the facts, but we don’t expect the conservative mainstream media to do it.
We saw an example of that in the Livingston County Daily Press & Argus on Wednesday when they did a story on the effect of the recently enacted popular workplace smoking ban on bars and restaurants. The story looked like little more than a press release from the Michigan Restaurant Association (MRA) – a staunch opponent of the ban - with some quotes thrown in from local bar and restaurant owners to localize a press release.
The story, called, “Bar, lottery sales down after May 1,” is, apparently, based on a report from the Michigan Department of Treasury released last month called “Early Impact of Michigan’s Smoking Ban.” However, it spins the facts to make it look like the ban has hurt business when the fact is it has increased it.
The analysis of tax receipts found that overall sales tax collections – and hence sales - in restaurants and bars were up 2.84 percent over last year when the ban went into effect on May 1 to September. But the MRA/LCP spun it as liquor sales fell 3.1 percent, and that was just from on premises liquor sales.
True, but the fact is more people spent money in bars and restaurants after the ban went into effect, Now, that may be important, but the most important thing is that the U.S. Surgeon General also issued a report last month that found that as little as one cigarette a day, or even just inhaling smoke from someone else's cigarette, could be enough to cause a heart attack and even death.
The fact is sales in neighborhood taverns that only sell booze fell by just 1.57 percent, a far cry from the false claims of a 60 percent drop and bars closing. Club lottery sales fell 13.7 percent after the ban. That can be attributed to the slow recovery from the Bush recession here in Michigan, as well as at least two – that I know of – highly publicized boycotts of Michigan Lottery games. The amount of free earned media that they received about the boycotts was ridiculous.
Another false claim by the pro-smoking lobby is that bars are going out of business because of the ban, and as proof they claim the number of liquor licenses that wound up in escrow — an indicator of when establishments shutter or stop serving booze – have increased since the ban. Perhaps a good indicate, but the fact is the exact opposite is true. Treasury officials report the number of liquor licenses that wound up in escrow decreased after the ban went into effect. The number fell over the same period last year, down to 240 from 278.
Here is the real bottom line driving the spin by trade associations, according to the report, the sale of cigarettes fell 5.4 percent after the ban, and that is the only product the 22 percent who still smoke in Michigan are using less of after the ban.