Monday, June 26, 2006
The Brew Lounge 'Topic of the Week': Smoking Ban in Bars
The idea is that each week, we will introduce a new topic that will attempt to get some dialog going for during the week. For starters, one of us will toss out an issue, a rant, or a current development and take a position. Then, the other half of The Brew Lounge will post a comment, agreement, or rebuttal. We will try to keep the debate as brief as possible but, who knows what passionate exchanges might get started here. Hopefully, some of you will weigh in on the topic as well. So, here goes. Here in our initial installment of 'Topic of the Week', I would like to throw out the controversial subject of smoking bans in drinking establishments like the many brewpubs and beer bars that we discuss here. Let me first start by saying that I do not smoke cigarettes. I may enjoy a cigar occasionally (actually, more seldom, than occasionally), but no one would consider me a smoker. In fact, I practically can say that I hate cigarette smoke. Also, I was raised in a family and around friends where there almost no smokers at all. Let it also be known that I love my beer. (Duh, you say, right?!) I want to see my beer, smell my beer, and taste my beer. Smoke can get in the way of these things, correct? So, now hold on as I tell you that I am against smoking bans in bars. Over the past, I don't know, decade or so, city after city (and even some states, if I'm not mistaken) have outlawed smoking in virtually all bars. This subject has finally made its way through Philadelphia's City Council and is poised, pending mayoral approval, to become law in January 2007. Of course, some provisions may get in the way, but this is where it stands as of today. I have a major problem with this for two main reasons. And, unfortunately for some of my friends, I have not been shy about discussing my feelings. My first argument actually is only indirectly related to the act of smoking. My primary concern is for the business owner. I am completely opposed (especially in this case as an example) to the government telling a business owner that an activity considered legal in our society is, in no uncertain terms, not allowed to occur within his/her walls of business operation. Forget any argument that bars have always been a place that allows vices of all kinds (smoking, drinking, "extracurricular activity", etc). I like that particular argument, but it is probably not an extremely valid one to make here. As a bar owner, I would be very concerned about the government's reach into my business in this manner. Why have we decided to ban smoking across the board in all bars? It's not as if non-smoking bars are illegal. In fact, there seems to be a trend in precisely that direction. All I seem to hear about is rave reviews from beer lovers that not only does a particular establishment serve great beer, but they are also smoke-free (Tria in Philadelphia is a great example). Well, glory be! Isn't that what a free market is all about??? Give the consumer the choice. In other words, we have some smoking bars and we have some non-smoking bars. If non-smoking bars are in such demand, let the choice of the consumer determine which businesses survive and which ones do not. My second argument is actually in favor of smoker's rights. Once again, I argue that smoking is not an illegal activity. Smoking cigarettes, that is. (Smoking marijuana, on the other hand, is a topic for a different day....and probably a different forum!) I do not want to hear the counter argument that they do not have a right to kill non-smokers with their second-hand smoke. If second-hand smoke is really killing other people (and I am certainly not arguing that it is not), then for crying out loud, let's finally ban cigarette smoking all together. Oh, I suppose that would have too great an economic impact on all the wrong people, eh?! ;-) So, before all of us beer drinkers and non-smokers puff out our chests and say, "woohoo, smoking has been banned in our bars," let's remember, that just as we think we have "rights" to go to a smoke-free bar, a business owner should have the right to operate a bar where patrons can smoke. You may say that it's unfair for you to have to leave your favorite bar/brewpub because they allow smoking and you want to enjoy the beer. If your favorite bar/brewpub allows smoking, then get your fellow patrons together and solicit the owner to ban smoking. It should not take the government to enact legislation. And, conversely, smokers should not feel like they have to leave a bar or go home just because they want to smoke a cigarette.