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.


Jeremy said...

I am all for the ban on smoking in bars in PA! Even better, ban it in all public places! I hate going to a bar where there are a lot of smokers... having my eyes sting, have to breath in their smoke, and go home smelling like an ashtray.

What if they could ban smoking in bars across the board... and then those bars that want to allow smoking, they would have to apply for some sort of permit to become smoking bars... just an idea.

Random side note... It seems that "most" smokers also are litterers as well... when they are driving down the road or walking down the street and they finish their cigarrette... they just flick it out the window or just drop it on the ground rather than putting their butts in an ashtray. I hate when I am driving behind someone who flicks their cigarette out their window and it comes flying at my car. I am sure that during the dry season there are a lot of fires started this way.

Another random side note... when I see a woman who is attractive and then I see them smoking... it makes them far less attractive.

Bryan Kolesar said...

Alright, this is a nice start to the debate. Thanks and good points Jeremy.

The one that really resonates with me is the one regarding littering. It, too, drives me nuts that cigarette smokers find it perfectly reasonable to dispose of their butts wherever and whenever they choose.

To jump on your other suggestion, I wouldn't be surprised to see in the not-so-far-off future, special tobacco/liquor licenses. Cigar bars seem to be the early adopter of this idea. (Wherever there's money to be made, right?..... follow the money!)

Anonymous said...

What it really comes down to is how your actions affect other people; I’m fine with smoking — people should be allowed to do it as much as they so choose, as long as it does not put others in danger. Smoking in enclosed, public spaces does just that — it forces those around the smoker to inhale toxic air. This is a public health issue, period. Smoking negatively affects the air in a bar or restaurant, and thus negatively affects all breathing employees and customers of that restaurant.

I’ve had a lot of conversations about this particluar issue, and heard the same weak arguments from smokers over and over again. So, in the spirit of one-sided debating, I’ve decided to respond to the most common smoker “counterpoints”:

“Why not ban drinking? How is it different than drinking? People who want to go to non-smoking bars are hypocritical because they are drinking at those bars.”

It really cracks me up when people compare cigarette smoking to drinking alcohol. THEY ARE NOT THE SAME.

If I sit next to you and you smoke a cigarette, it affects me. I am forced to inhale toxins that negatively affect my health. If you are drinking a beer, I am not affected in any way. As I said earlier, this is all about how your actions affect other people.

Drinking is legal. Drinking and driving is not legal. Acting disorderly when drunk is not legal. Basically, you can drink to your heart’s desire as long as it does not endanger others.

Smoking should follow the same suit… Smoke your little heart out as long as it does not affect other people. Unfortunately, smoking in an enclosed space affects everyone around you, which is why it should be banned.

As far as I’m concerned, this should be applied to other drugs as well — If someone wants to smoke pot or do coke or whatever in the privacy of their own home and doesn’t allow that to negatively affect anyone else, why should it be illegal?

“This is a violation of my rights; I have a right to smoke”

No, you don’t. Smoking cigarettes may be legal in this country, but it is neither a protected interest nor a fundamental right, so the government can choose to regulate it as they please. In actuality, there are already a wide range of regulations on smoking that receive little compliaint; Smoking is banned in office buildings, airplanes, etc., and extending this ban to bars & restaurants is simply our government updating existing laws to better serve and protect the public welfare. Until we pass a constitutional ammendment to protect this so-called “right to smoke”, you’re SOL.

“If you dont like the smoke, dont go to bars.”

Personally, I have curtailed my bar hopping because I can’t handle the smoke. But it isn’t that simple. I like going to bars, and miss it (unless I’m in one of the smoke-free states, in which case it’s great). In addition, there are other events that I enjoy, say a BEER FESTIVAL, where I must endure smoke to attend. Why is that? I have to endanger my health to drink some good beer?

“You just don’t want to smell like cigarettes; Second hand smoke only affects people with long term exposure, not the casual bar drinker.”

Does anyone truly know the exact effects of spending 2-6 hours in a smoky bar per week over a long period of time? I’m not ashamed to admit that I do not. (I’m sure it differs per person.) What I do know is that smoke contains a ton of harmful toxins and carcinogens, and I don’t want to take any chances by exposing myself to them. I shouldn’t have to.

Many of these laws were passed with the idea in mind that bar workers should not have to work in a smoking environment — office buildings are smoke-free, why aren’t all workplaces? I couldn’t agree more. Interestingly, the whole workplace thing does not only affect people who choose to work at bars. I spent some time writing live music reviews on a regular basis, most of which took place at smoking venues. That profession has nothing to do with smoking, but I still was forced to deal with it everytime I went to write a review.

“Private business owners should have right to choose.”

Private business owners cannot allow people to break the law in their establishment just because it is privately owned. Smoking is a public health issue, and laws are being created to handle it. If the government sees fit to pass a new law to uphold the public welfare, private business owners must obey that law. This is a civilized society — laws that everyone must obey are a necessary evil.

So lets go Philly, and hopefully PA soon after that.

Anonymous said...

Bryan - I can understand your points but have to disagree strongly (except for the littering aspect - seeing cigarette butts all over the ground really ticks me off). Anyhow, as a non-smoker who has been living in a city that banned smoking in bars and restaurants a year ago, I can't tell you how much I love going out without having to smell smoke and then take a shower and wash all of my clothes when I get home. After coming out here to Madison to visit, I thought you enjoyed the smoke free environment also. Regardless of whether or not the ban is passed in Philly, and I hope it does pass, I'll still hit all of my favorite places when I come out there in the fall. The Philly beer scene is the best in the country and can only be enhanced by the removal of smoke.