Over the weekend, Starbuck enacted a policy at its US and Canadian stores whereby smoking is prohibited within 25 feet of its store premises (not just the front door or outdoor eating area, the entire perimeter). According to a Starbucks’s spokesperson “The intent is to provide a healthy environment for our customers in the outdoor seating areas of our stores."
Many have applauded this measure citing SB’s commitment to its customer’s health, a sign of its continued commitment to corporate social responsibility. Unfortunately, corporate social responsibility is a euphemism for a type of marketing approach and so Starbuck’s doesn’t really care about your health. Like all public companies, what matters is shareholder value, or in other words, the health SB cares about is that of its balance sheet.
Let’s dissect this: If SB cared about their customer’s health, they would have banned smoking within 25 feet of its stores at all of their approximately 17,000 locations globally (not just most of the 3,000 franchise stores in the US and Canada). According to SB, they also serve customer is in: Argentina, Aruba, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Bahrain, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Chile, China, Costa Rica, Curacao, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Egypt, El Salvador, England, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Hong Kong/Macau, Hungary, Indonesia, Ireland, Japan, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Malaysia, Mexico, Morocco, New Zealand, Netherlands, Northern Ireland, Oman, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Romania, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Scotland, Singapore, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, United Arab Emirates.
So if the health of its customers is not driving this, then what was the impetus to this new policy? Here are four possibilities:
1. Listening to Customers: SB is listening to its customers in the US and Canada many who are non-smokers. Ok, if that’s true, then why 25 feet? Is second hand smoke such a concern “outside” the SB store and that far away from the store? I don’t think so and my guess is that most people don’t care enough to voice their concerns to SBs about some smokers outside the store - not letter writing campaigns. Complaining is easy but there is a general lethargy amongst most when it actually comes to doing something like voting or drafting a letter to the CEO (particular lethargy in the US based on the amount of abuse it citizens are willing to take from government and corporations). Sure a few ardent customers sent letters to SB - probably former smokers who, based on my experience, have the most visceral hatred for anything tobacco - but not enough to elicit change.
2. Employees Breaks: This policy was aimed at changing employee bad behavior: Too many SB employees smoke and they were taking too many smoking breaks. Certainly this policy would make it inconvenient for them but this is unlikely the reason for the policy. There are other less public and more effective measures to keep employees from smoking such as increasing the cost of health insurance for smokers or simply enacting a employee policy that prohibits the behavior.
3. Cost of Cleanliness: Cigarrette butts are garbage and it was costly to keep the storefront clean. This is unlikely because storefronts need to be swept regardless; moreover my guess is that 15 of the 25 feet is the street (public sanitation is responsible for cleaning).
4. Marketing: I think the most plausible reason is that this is propaganda in a good disguise. SB can feign it cares about the health of its customer even if they don’t. The press on this has mostly been positive from what I can tell and people actually believe SB cares about the health of its customers. People have taken the bait and are arguing about how SB is a good corporate citizen by tackling the second hand smoke menace. This marketing strategy redirects the conversation away from SB products many of which are unhealthy by any standard (and not to mention that they sell these products to kids too – think Frappuccino). The outdoor second hand smoke argument is a BS arguement as well – I mean this is a ban *outside* the SBs store – 25 feet away from it. The outdoor second hand smoking argument is intellectually dishonest and conflates a mouse with an elephant. I won’t get into the details on this as it should be common sense.
So what’s the cost of this marketing effort for SB? Probably not more than the paper for the press release. There isn’t any cost for enforcement because this policy isn’t enforceable. SB can’t keep people from smoking in the street even within the 25 foot perimeter. They can’t keep the owner of an adjacent store from smoking within his store. They can’t keep people from smoking inside their cars while they are parked enjoying their Sausage & Cheddar Classic Breakfast Sandwich. So unless there is a related local law that has this prohibition, SB can’t call the cop or chase away smokers with a broom. SB is aware of this policy overstepping: "If it's public space and something we do not have control of, and the law allows it then we can't enforce it.”. Well then, why didn’t they simply make the ban effective on their premises, both inside and out, instead of the seemingly arbitrary 25 feet rule? Simple: shock value. In other words, the press wouldn’t have picked up on this story if this was just a point of clarification of an existing policy. Certainly I wouldn’t have (which raises the question: have I fallen for the bait too?)
I hope this clears this up a bit. And if you ever want to have a stogie but are concerned about violating SB policy - whether inside the 25 feet limit or inside one of its stores - just travel outside the U.S. and Canada where SB cares less about the health of its customers. You’ll certainly find an accommodating SB franchise.