Starting December 8, your favorite clubs and bars will be donning a new wall decoration: a state-mandated "No Smoking" sign. Not only that, those familiar servers and bouncers will have every right to toss your ass out for lighting up. Last week, Initiative 901—which bans smoking in clubs, restaurants, and bars—won by a hefty margin of 63 percent to 36 percent, making Washington the 10th state to enact such a measure. Though the ban had widespread support in Seattle, it continues to face opposition from some club owners and employees because of troublesome fine print and the lack of clarity regarding enforcement responsibilities.
Dave Meinert, music promoter/band manager/club owner/nonsmoker and vocal critic of the ban from the word go, claims he is still unclear on how his employees at the Mirabeau Room are expected to enforce the new law.
"We don't know what we're supposed to do," he says. "All I know is that we're required to post a 'No Smoking' sign and we're supposed to 'prohibit' smoking."
If caught violating the ban, both the club and the smoker face a fine of $100 for the infraction. Fortunately for the clubs, the law does not stipulate the loss of a liquor license.
"We prohibit cocaine use in the bar," says Meinert. "We don't have a sign saying it's illegal, but if we see someone doing cocaine in the bathroom we say, 'Get the fuck outta here, you can't do that here.' But we don't get a ticket if someone is doing cocaine in our bathroom."
Roger Valdez, manager of the Tobacco Prevention Program for King County, insists clubs are expected to prohibit smoking the same as they do underage drinking.
"This is no big deal," says Valdez. "And I emphasize this because every club has certain rules of conduct. There are things that just can't go on in clubs. What we've added to the list is smoking."
In a city with a smoking population of only 15.7 percent, what has some club owners and patrons concerned isn't necessarily the smokers inside, it's the 25-foot rule that applies to smokers outside, which prohibits smoking within 25 feet of an entrance or exit of a club.
"I know for a fact it will be impossible to stop people from smoking within 25 feet of our doors," says Kwab Copeland, booking agent for the Sunset Tavern in Ballard. "It's difficult enough trying to keep track of what goes on inside the Sunset."
However, the rule is not concrete; the law states it will be upheld "unless shorter distances are approved by the director of the local health department." This same vague clause, it turns out, was effective in Pierce County for only a brief time last year before being overturned by the Washington State Supreme Court on a technicality.
"It's our intention to ensure that smoke is not getting inside the venue," says Valdez. "This law is not a punitive law. It was not designed to be the kind of HA-we-caught-you-smoking-10-feet-from-the-entrance-of-a-club law."
Valdez explains that the outside ban will be enforced on a complaint-driven basis, not by ticket-happy police officers (though a police spokesperson could not be reached for comment). As an example, he cites that if someone waiting in line outside the Crocodile lights up and a patron inside the club claims the smoke is affecting them, it's then the club's duty to ensure no more smoke will waft indoors.
"Management," he says, "is the first stop on the [complaint] chain."
The bottom line, however, is business. There is proof that smoking bans in nightlife-friendly cities like New York and San Francisco have led to overall boosts in the service economy. The New York Times reported that one year after that city's smoking ban took effect, restaurant and bar tax receipts went up by 8.7 percent, while CNN reported an overall increase in the health of California bartenders following that state's ban.
Steve Severin, talent buyer for Chop Suey, thinks the smoking ban will have a positive impact on Seattle clubs and patrons alike. "I wanted to [go nonsmoking] before. You have to worry about the backlash from people that smoke. They could just go to other places that allowed it. Now we're all on an even playing field."
Steven Hansen, a smoker at the Sunset Tavern on a recent Friday night, bluntly echoed the sentiments of most smokers who were questioned: "I'd rather hang out [at this club] than smoke a cigarette, and I'd rather quit smoking than quit drinking."firstname.lastname@example.org