The question remains: will the smoking ban hurt business? I still don't think so, based on various anecdotal and empirical examples and my own reasoning, and the fact that opponents of the ban, like State Senator Russell Olson, resorted to desperately stupid arguments. The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis also agrees with me (another reason my cousin Aaron will want to "END THE FED!!").
But we won't have to guess. We'll get our first bit of hard data next month, when the state Business Tax Division publishes the State Taxable Sales Comparison for November. Last month, statewide taxable sales in eating and drinking places were up 2.7%, $2.5 million, over October 2009—rather slow, given October taxable sales across all sectors were up 8.7% over October 2009. We'll also be able to look beyond monthly snapshots and consider fiscal year comparisons. FY 2010 showed a measly 0.6% growth in taxable dining-and-drinking sales over FY2009, though that sector still outperformed the overall 1.5% decrease in taxable sales.
|FY||gain in taxable dining and drinking sales||gain in overall taxable sales|
Table 1: Change in South Dakota taxable sales by fiscal year
If we're really ambitious, we'll even be able to look at data city by city and look at eating establishments and drinking establishments separately. (Hey, Department of Revenue: any chance you could start posting this data in quick and easy HTML tables or Excel spreadsheets instead of those big honking PDF files?)
And even if I'm wrong, even if the revenue reports for the bar and restaurant sector show a decline in business that we can trace to the smoking ban and not to more people staying home to enjoy homemade rhubarb wine from their organic gardens while they watch movies on Netflix on their expanding broadband connections, any revenue decline will have to offset more than the hundreds of millions of dollars in health care cost savings as more people get the hint and kick the cancer sticks.
We'll also have to measure any revenue losses against some quantification of the freedom gained by more South Dakotans to relax and work in more places without smelling like butts.