What does Nelson stand to gain? He's CEO of KC Hopps, a local chain of eight restaurants that includes 75th Street Brewery and 810 Zone. He's also president of the Kansas City Business Rights Coalition, a group of restaurant and bar owners who have banded together to fight smoking bans.
The Pitch called Nelson to find out what's behind his porter-strong opposition.
The Pitch: Smokers represent something like 15 percent of the population. Are you afraid you might alienate most of your customers with this effort?
Nelson: I guess I would turn this around. There are currently laws and ordinances on the books, and our opponents are trying to change those. We're asking that the rules stay the same as when we invested thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions of dollars into our small businesses.
If nonsmokers learn that you're the head of this organization, will they stop going to your restaurants?
People know that it's a smoking establishment. There are signs on the walls or on the windows. Most bar businesses and restaurants have a very effective smoke separation system and ventilation system and/or smoke eaters.
I don't smoke, and I personally despise smoking. I'm a runner and cyclist, and I've never had a cigarette in my whole life. I go in and out of my restaurants every day, and I can tell you that I rarely smell any smoke on my clothes. If you go to a bar at midnight, where two-thirds of everybody is smoking, you're going to smell like smoke. I think you know that going in. That's why I would never allow my kids out at 11 at night to restaurants that allow smoking. They're going to be influenced by that.
Ever had anybody you know die of lung cancer?
I'm not sure the relevance of that. Thankfully, I've not had any close friends die of lung cancer.
Proponents often talk about how close relatives died of lung cancer. Think you'd feel differently if it happened to someone you know?
Well, I think their fight ought to be against smoking. If that's the fight and the argument, it ought to be banning smoking. It's a legal product. To restrict that at businesses who have invested their money a certain way isn't right.
How will this end?
I really don't know. I would like to see it go free-market. I'm a huge proponent of the free market and an educated populace. I'll give the example of trans fats. I'm kind of a health junkie, and we eliminated trans fats in all of our items a year and a half ago. By going to a little more expensive product that's healthier, businesses that make this choice will benefit their customers and their sales. I don't think trans fats ought to be illegal, but I sure as heck am trying not to eat them. The market works if you let it work.