© Ravi Wazir, 2020

Smoke for Thought

Whether or not to restrict smoking in restaurants or other food service premises is an issue most managers would rather not discuss. Either they’ve already travelled that path and come to some conclusions, or they feel it isn’t for them to arouse a controversy. A discussion on the subject generally leads to heated debates on individual rights and social courtesy, but reaches no conclusive solution.

Let us look at some thoughts from both a smoker’s and a non-smoker’s view point:

Non-Smoker: Isn’t it strange that though we are far greater in number than smokers we don’t really have many smoke-free options in calibre restaurants?

Smoker: Smoking is synonymous with drinking and alcohol offers the lion’s share of profit.

Non-Smoker: Passive smoking is a well-known health hazard.

Smoker: Traditional hookah and bidi smokers happily live to a ripe old age.

Non-Smoker: I go to a restaurant to enjoy an evening with my family and a smoker nearby lights up and ruins our dinner.

Smoker: Smoking for me is a form of relaxation. What about my right to enjoy an evening the way I choose?

Our dilemma is that all our patrons are valuable to us. Why take sides? Let these individuals work / fight it out amongst themselves. Why get into it? Maybe it’s for the government to take a stance.

The Singapore government has been hugely successful in implementing a smoking ban on most enclosed public premises including their national carrier. The American government has succeeded in implementing the same in a few states. (Others opposed it with a credo “Regulate ventilation not rights.”) The Indian government passed a similar bill in New Delhi some months back in an attempt to follow suit. Unfortunately its implementation was unsuccessful even in the secretariat itself. Besides, how could officials who themselves chew or smoke tobacco enforce such a law?

We can see that leaving it up to an individual is inconclusive, while a government mechanism takes its own time. Why should an establishment get involved and what could be done?

Consider the possibility that the presence of a smoker would chase away non-smokers. The smokers keep returning while the non-smokers don’t. The restaurateur is left with a false sense of his majority client base. This makes him hesitant to upset the “regulars.”

The fact is that in reality it’s not the smokers that bother non-smokers, it’s the smoke that bothers them. Also, ironically smokers themselves are often keen on enjoying a non-smoking environment. Take a consensus from your guests and your employees and you might just be surprised by what the majority want. Up to this point you lose nothing, but what you stand to gain might be much more.

Based on the response, one must define a “smoking policy” put down in writing and made available to guests and employees. Some may grumble while others may congratulate you. Either way, if you expect your staff to implement this policy you will need to stand behind it firmly, adapt it and update it. Visibility via external and internal signage would help communicate the policy to your guests.

It is best to refrain from getting into debates about the freedom to smoke v/s. the freedom from smoke. Rather, explain it as a business decision about space occupied by both parties where the right to clean air takes precedence. If civic spirit is the accent, we could achieve a win-win situation.

In the event of an area-wise smoke restriction, the border between the smoking and non-smoking zones may be tricky for the staff to handle, while the expense of a structural division may be difficult. The cost of investment in a good ventilation system may be an important consideration for the management. A time-wise restriction is another possibility.

What would happen if you choose to go totally smoke free? Can you really expect your clients to take a walk for their puff? Is India ready for this? Let us try and find out before taking the plunge.

Most smokers won’t quit eating at their favourite restaurant. They’ll just quit smoking in it!