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Smoke Out

Some arguments for and against a proposed ban on smoking in bars and clubs in Washington State

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Casey Kelbaugh
Never mind Iraq--there's a new issue that'll be sparking heated standoffs all over town. The question on the floor is this: Should you or shouldn't you be able to smoke in bars? Regardless of what you might think about this burning question, national trends (Boston and New York City will ban smoking in bars beginning later this year) and local polling all point the same way: A ban on smoking in bars will eventually pass, and smokers won't be able to light up at places like Linda's, the Tractor Tavern, or the Crocodile Cafe. (Washington law already bans smoking in places that everyone has to go to: buses, elevators, office reception areas, classrooms, hospitals, retail stores, banks, and workplaces.)

Despite $175,000 in big-tobacco money nudging the last legislative cycle in Olympia, a House bill sponsored by Representative Joe McDermott (D-34, West Seattle) and a Senate bill sponsored by Senator Rosemary McAuliffe (D-1, Bothell), both of which propose to ban smoking in all public indoor locations in the state (like bars and restaurants), are getting hearings this week.

Bar owners needn't fret. Studies--in places like California and Vancouver, BC, where smoking in bars is already prohibited--have shown that smoking bans don't hurt business. Here are some statistics: A year after California enacted its no-smoking laws in 1998, bar revenues went up 6 percent; figures compiled by the British Columbia Liquor Distribution Board showed a 1.7 percent increase in liquor sales at licensed establishments after they were all forced to go smoke-free in the initial wake of smoking bans; and a study on the impact of New York City's smoke-free restaurant ordinance found that restaurant sales increased 2.1 percent after the ban took effect. (As of March 30, it will also be illegal to smoke in bars in New York City.)

Judging from all the flaming going on in the following essays, though, the economic impact of a smoking ban is hardly the controversial issue. The proposed smoking ban apparently cuts to the heart of people's convictions about government, pleasurable vices, and the shared spaces that define urban life. Our own editorial staff seems hotly divided (and even confused) on the issue; for example, barfly rocker Jennifer Maerz and bomb-throwing civil libertarian Dan Savage--two people whom you'd expect to cringe at the idea of the government telling people what they can and cannot do in rock clubs and bars--turned out to be big supporters of the proposed ban. Hopefully, their write-ups, along with Charles Mudede's and Sandeep Kaushik's screeds against the ban, will add some fire to the smoke. JOSH FEIT

AGAINST THE BAN:

Bars aren't health clubs!

So it has come to this. The utopian crusaders and activists, the do-gooders--and I invest this term with all the contempt it deserves--want to ban smoking in bars. IN BARS. No doubt, because we are a cringing, anxiety-ridden people increasingly afraid of our own shadows, they will succeed.

A few thoughts for those of you who support this proposed legislative tyranny. First: Yes, smoking is bad for you. Maybe even hanging out with smokers is bad for you. Fine; if you're worried about your health, don't hang out in smoke-filled bars. Last time I checked, you still had free will. If you must drink in public, go to one of the many nonsmoking bars that have spread through our urban landscape like a cancer. What--you don't enjoy the company of the boring, narcissistic health nuts who frequent such places? You want to hang out with the cool people in the cool bars?

Fine; fuck you, then. Suck it up and quit your whining. Excuse the repetition, but a BAR is a BAR. It is not a HEALTH CLUB. It is a place where like-minded people go to engage in self-destructive behavior. And for most barflies, that includes smoking AND drinking, since, as any second-year med student can tell you, the smoke bone is connected to the drink bone.

And here's the clincher, at least for those of you who compose the nonsmoking, male, heterosexual portion of the population. I'm given to understand that many of you go to drinking establishments on the off chance that you might meet a pliable girl of easy virtue, whom you can then take home and roger vigorously. Guess what, my young male friends? Chicks like that tend to smoke. Ergo, any law that makes them less likely to come out to the local watering hole impinges on your God-given right to get your dick wet. And that is just plain wrong.

So, as I have just conclusively demonstrated, this legislation is a clear violation of truth, justice, and the American way. Not to mention common sense. SANDEEP KAUSHIK

FOR THE BAN:

Save the bartenders!

Just as there was a time when I was a pack-a-day smoker, there was a time when I was against banning smoking in bars. I lived in California for 10 years (most of that time in San Francisco), and I was there in January 1998, when the statewide law banning smoking from all bars and restaurants took effect. I believed then (as I do now) that the decision to smoke should be left in the hands of the smoker. But a ban on smoking in public places is for those people, including the many nonsmokers who work in bars, who don't want to suffer the health-damaging effects of secondhand smoke.

Immediately after the California ban took effect, San Francisco bars suffered a little. Places that were once packed were emptier, and the cops unfairly slapped a couple of small bars with huge fines for allowing smoking. But after that initial shakeup, people dealt with the change. For the most part, they smoked outside--on patios or on the sidewalk--just like you do at house parties when you can't smoke inside. When it rained or when it was cold (which was often, in the Bay Area), they dressed warmly and stood under awnings.

As a consequence of that small inconvenience, nonsmokers who worked in or patronized bars no longer had to hang out in toxic rooms and were protected from smoking-related illnesses. (Secondhand smoke kills 50,000 nonsmokers every year.) In San Francisco, a study done by the University of California, San Francisco, found that bartenders' health improved after working in smokeless environments. Before the ban, three-fourths of the city bartenders studied had lung ailments. Nearly one year later, symptoms for 60 percent had dropped away completely.

Some say that people who can't take it should just stay away from places where people smoke--but tell that to people happy to have a job in this shitty economy (the bartenders, waiters, and waitresses), to the performers who have to work in smoky clubs every night, or to the fans/arts critics (ahem) who patronize bars and clubs for entertainment/work. Your use of alcohol does not affect others in the immediate vicinity; when you drink too much, the person standing beside you isn't forced to drink. When you smoke, the person beside you is forced to smoke. The medical facts on secondhand smoke stand on the side of the ban, and the shift in a smoker's routine (stepping outside instead of lighting up in the bar) is a small price to pay to protect the public's health. JENNIFER MAERZ

AGAINST THE BAN:

Better in bars than in homes!

I'm not a smoker--not a committed smoker--and yet I think that people should be able to smoke in bars.

But only in bars. I'm opposed to all other forms of public smoking (on buses and airplanes, in hospitals and lecture rooms). I'm even opposed to people smoking in their own homes. The one place where I think people should be able to smoke, however, is a bar. Smoking should be permitted in bars because bars are not meant to be healthy places. All other places in our society are about health, about life, about improving the body and mind. A home should be a healthy place--as should a school, an airplane, or a lecture hall. But a bar? A bar is a place where we go to slowly die. Bars are about sadness, about dissolving. If smoke belongs anywhere, it belongs in a place that we visit in order to expressly destroy our health. And if we want to discourage people from smoking in their own homes, around their small children or their nonsmoking guests, they need a place to go, a place where unhealthy activities are the whole point. They need bars--bars where they can smoke.

This may not be a particularly winning argument, so I will make a second point: The health concern about smoking is somewhat exaggerated in North America. Japan, for example, has a much lower per capita lung cancer rate than the U.S., yet it has twice the percentage of smokers. Clearly, cigarettes have significant cancer-causing allies--but for some reason, all we North Americans can think about is sinister secondhand smoke.

My message for the state legislature: Let those who want to destroy their health do so in peace. My message to the nonsmokers: Don't be so hysterical about the effects of secondhand smoke. And if you know where all the smokers congregate--in bars--then avoiding them, and all that deadly secondhand smoke, is that much easier. CHARLES MUDEDE

FOR THE BAN:

Bars don't belong to smokers!

My dad smokes. My mom smoked for 15 years. Some of my best friends are smokers. And yet I say without hesitation that I hate smokers. The only people I hate more than smokers are dog owners--although I hate dog owners and smokers for pretty much the same reason. While dog owners believe the whole world is one big toilet for their turd-droppers, smokers believe the whole world is one big ashtray. It's all about them--the dog owner and his "right" to let his idiot animal shit anywhere and everywhere, and the idiot smoker and his "right" to fill any room he enters with smoke.

This may come as news to smokers out there, but bars don't belong to smokers, any more than sidewalks, parks, and other people's yards belong to dog owners. Public spaces are not the private property of whoever can make the biggest, smelliest mess.

My desire to see smoking banned in bars is not in conflict with my live-and-let-live stance on other vices. Someone who snorts coke or visits prostitutes does not force others to do the same. Twenty smokers, on the other hand, can force 100 nonsmokers in a bar to smoke--and send the nonsmokers home smelling like smokers, too. Smug smokers insist that nonsmokers are "free" to leave bars, or to avoid them altogether. But why can't nonsmokers, who outnumber smokers three to one, insist that smokers step outside when they light up? What gives smokers--25 percent of the adult population--the right to claim bars all for themselves?

If the proposed smoking-in-bars ban comes close to passage, we'll no doubt hear more griping from smokers who think that an addiction and a prickly sense of entitlement should win them the argument. Rest assured, boys and girls and bar owners: People will still gather in bars to drink. After all, it's the booze in bars that brings people together, lowers their inhibitions, and gets them laid--not the cigarettes. I was just up in Vancouver, BC, for the weekend, and the bars were packed--why? Because bars are not, as smokers would have us believe, all about smoking. Bars are all about drinking--and lots of nonsmokers are drinkers. If you're not in the bar to drink, I say, then get the hell out. If smoking is what you love, don't go to a bar. Go to an AA meeting. DAN SAVAGE

AGAINST ANNOYING PEOPLE:

The pro-ban forces are right--but they're pests.

Truth be told, I couldn't care less about the proposed smoking ban. My feeling: If it doesn't happen now, it will undoubtedly happen soon--at the rate we're going, cigarettes will probably be banned in our lifetime. There's no stopping the antismoking forces, so why complain?

Well, I do have one complaint, and that complaint is this: A ban on smoking in public places, though certainly justifiable, hands a victory to perhaps one of the most annoying personality types--a type I shall (not very creatively) label the "annoying, antismoking whiner" (AAW).

Personally, I don't believe that annoying people should be rewarded for their annoying behavior, and AAWs are often annoying to smokers and nonsmokers alike. Take the person who elects to join you at a bar, and then whines about the smoke in the air. Knowingly entering a smoke-filled room and then complaining about the smoke--whether the complaints are vocalized or grimaced--scrapes upon the nerves. Even though the AAW may be completely right, I can't sympathize.

My position, I admit, is immature and fairly unjustifiable, but as the smoking-ban debate swept through our office last week, it was the one I kept coming back to. Yes, the AAWs are right, of course--but that doesn't mean they're not annoying. The fact that they're right actually makes them more annoying. Like the vegetarian who glares at you like you're Goebbels while you enjoy a cheeseburger, AAWs should just mind their own fucking business--except they shouldn't, really, since a cheeseburger isn't secondhand smoke. Eating a cheeseburger won't kill a vegetarian, but secondhand smoke will kill others, which makes the AAWs even more right--and, consequently, even more goddamned annoying.

Oh, and one more thing: Am I the only one who finds it odd that in a state where SUVs get cheap tabs despite their heavy polluting, smoking in bars is about to take a fall? They even have a name for the SUVs' version of secondhand smoke: black soot. Where's the legislation against that? BRADLEY STEINBACHER

 

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