Bars were made for cigarette smokers


I smoked my first cigarette when I was 12 years old.

Yeah. I know. But it is what it is, and there you are.

Last October, the day before I began my new job, I quit. Actually, my wife and I quit together. I was 48 years old at the time. And you know damned well I’m not giving up my wife’s age. The fact that I gave up smoking should be proof enough that I enjoy life.

Anyway, now I’m reading about this big push to abolish smoking in Michigan’s public places, which would include public places like bars and restaurants. As more and more states across the country are taking up anti-smoking legislation, some legislators in Michigan are apparently starting to feel like Michigan is getting left behind once again if we don’t follow along.

I’m glad I quit smoking, and yeah, I do feel better, but I couldn’t disagree more with those who think it makes sense to legislate the end of smoking in bars. That’s the craziest shit I ever heard. Far as I’m concerned, the bar is the one place where a smoker shouldn’t have any worries whatsoever about firing up.

For those of you who may be surprised at my point of view given the fact that I recently ‘chose life’ and put down the cancer sticks, I would point out that it was my decision to put them down. I wasn’t forced to comply by my beloved government. As a grown-up who is well aware of the consequences of smoking, and who is also well aware of how eggregiously the American public has been lied to by Big Tobacco, I made a grown-up decision to quit. On my own. Same thing with my wife.

This doesn’t mean I think it’s OK to now close the door on everyone else now that I’m home free. While I do agree it makes sense not to allow smoking in certain workplace environments where non-smokers would be forced to inhale the clouds, I don’t count bars among those work environments because I figure if you’re going to a bar then, as an adult, you ought to know what goes on in bars. If you don’t like smoke-filled bars (which happen to be the kind of bars I’ve performed in for most of my professional musician life) then go on a nature hike or something. Hug a tree.

Sorry. That was uncalled for. But here’s all I’m saying; don’t expect government to be able to save you from everything in life, and don’t ask government to disrupt everyone else’s quality of life – no matter how repulsive that quality of life may be to you – just so you can impose your version of a ‘new and improved’ lifestyle on your unsuspecting fellow citizens who may not be quite ready to have you improve them just yet.  Simply understand that bars aren’t for you and move on to someplace where you belong. Keep in mind that there is nothing wrong, in my humble opinion, with a bar owner who decides he doesn’t want cigarette smoking going on in his establishment if that’s what he figures his customers want. Or if it’s what he wants. Fine. But to give the Michigan Legislature the power to to start a flash fire and eradicate a whole lifestyle and culture using the excuse that they care about our health is plain and simple bullshit.

And yes, bar life really is a separate culture and lifestyle. Trust me. Having played music in just about every size and style of bar you can imagine over the course of 20 years – from upscale suburban polish and gloss to ghetto firetrap – I’ve got a pretty good idea of what bars are about. Granted, I haven’t hung out in too many country and western bars, but my guess is the only real difference is what’s on stage and the  the jukebox menu. Outside of that, what you have are regular folk who only want to take a deep, calm breath at the end of a crazy day, wrap their fingers around something cold and wet to drink, light one up, and put it all behind them. A beer and a cigarette in a low-lit bar are good for that. A beer, a cigarette, and some newfound companionship interested in small talk about nothing-in-particular to pass the time is an even better remedy.

Standing outside the front door huddled around the complementary Ashtray for Outcasts just ain’t the same.

Sure, smoking can kill you. But it’s also legal. Which means you still ought to have a choice with at least a few things you do with your life. And yes, second-hand smoke is not to be taken lightly, which is why I’m not advocating that smoking be allowed in nurseries or on airplanes. But when you start talking about banning smoking in bars, or about not hiring people who smoke even though they don’t smoke on the job, then that’s when this whole discussion begins to enter the Theatre of the Absurd.

Choice matters.


~ by Keith A. Owens on July 12, 2007.

8 Responses to “Bars were made for cigarette smokers”

  1. Hotep Bro. Keith. I dunno. I smoked my first cigeratte when I was 12 as well. In my case, it was my last cigeratte as well. I didn’t like the taste or the inhaling. My Dad never smoked. My mom smoked for a long time before she gave it up.

    That personal history may explain why I’m cool with the idea of banning smoking in public places. Of course, I’m not as much of a bar-pro as you’ve been in your career/life [smile] so I could easily defer to your wishes on the matter.

    peace, Villager [sitting near a smoked-filled baobob tree!]

  2. Hi. I thought you’d be interested to know that junk food is going the way of the cigarette. Oxford researchers are proposing a “fat tax” on junk food, claiming that doing so will save lives. Sounds familiar?

  3. I can understand your point of view, but I disagree with it pretty strongly. What you are doing here is privileging the needs of one set of taxpayers (smokers) over another set (non-smokers). Fine.

    But here’s where I stand.

    The research is pretty clear that second hand smoke is deadly. That even though I’ve had less than five cigars (and one cigarette) my entire life, I’m still significantly at risk because I’ve lived around smokers…and I go to nightclubs. Smoking represents a public health risk. More of my tax money goes to health care because of this. As a public health risk, the regulation of smoking becomes an open political question. Now truth be told, it always WAS an open political question–remember that the state regulates legal smoking age.

    Now you’re right to suggest that there is a strong cultural component to smoking. Because smoking has been associated with bars and nightclubs there is a tendency–particularly among smokers–to think that it SHOULD be associated with bars and nightclubs. But understand clearly, particularly given the health risks involved, there is no such inherent right.

    As an old school house head, whose wife still lets out, there was nothing i hated more than going to clubs coming home smelling like smoke. Nothing I hated more than having to inhale second hand smoke just because I wanted to listen to the music of my preference.

    I shouldn’t have to suffer because of someone else’s addiction.

  4. Villager and Lester,

    I guess I expected this post to generate some heat. And I do understand where the both of you are coming from. Villager, my dad was just like yours because he never smoked notm one cigarette. And just like your mother my mother quit when I was about 14 after years of smoking. Cold turkey. Never looked back. And she would agree with both you and Lester whole-heartedly and, I suspect, would be pissed as hell at what I had to say.

    That said, this is one of those places where we’ll have to agree to disagree. As I said in the post, I do understand the risks of second-hand smoke, but I think that’s where club owners come in. If their clientele is demanding smoke-free, believe me it will happen because they want to keep their clientele and keep making money. But I can think of several clubs right off the top where I know a government ban will just about shut the doors. Why? Because of the atmosphere and the people attracted to the place. Does this mean they will be replaced by happy non-smokers? Hell no, because these aren’t the kind of places where they would have ever come to begin with. Successful bars, even successful dives, are successful because they have a steady set of regulars who are attracted to the vibe of a particular spot. You kill that vibe, you kill the club.

    As for the dangers of second-hand smoke in bars, unless you’re the type to frequent small smoky bars on a several-times-a-week basis, I don’t think there’s much chance of a non-smoker contracting cancer. I realize this isn’t scientific, but I think it makes sense when you do the math.

    Anyway, I do understand the point of view that non-smokers shouldn’t have to suffer because of someone else’s addiction. That’s true, which is why smokers can’t fire up at their desks anymore and newsrooms are such a different place than they used to be. Bars and private residences are damned near the only places where smokers can indulge their addiction, and I think it’s wrong to shut it down. To turn your question on its head around, Lester, why should they be forced to suffer? Non-smokers have just about everywhere else locked down in their favor. Now that’s about to get snatched. Who’s really getting backed against a wall here?

  5. Polina,

    Thanks much for stopping by. A “fat tax”? Are you serious? If you don’t mind, could you maybe send some links to stories about that issue if you have any? I’d really like to read some more about that.

    Take care,and stop by again.

  6. Poking around about second hand smoke I found this. So if I go to a smoking environment twice a week, I’m basically smoking around a pack myself. The workers–who may not smoke–are consuming more than that. Shouldn’t consuming a pack a week increase one’s risk of lung cancer significantly?

    You note that smoking is an addiction. It’s an addiction that not only has negative health consequences for those addicted, but negative health consequences for those NOT addicted. I’d argue strongly that smokers should be able to have smoking lounges, akin to the ones they have in airports. But those places should be explicitly marked as such.

    Finally, you asked why smokers should be forced to suffer. Because in this case, it looks like we’re in a zero sum game. The more space that smokers have to smoke, the less space non-smokers have to be healthy.

  7. Lester,

    I hear what you’re saying and i appreciate the research on second hand smoke. That definitely bolsters your argument.
    Still, I would continue to argue just as strongly that it doesn’t make sense to put smoker’s lounge in a bar. In a restaurant, OK, I can see that. But in a corner bar? Doesn’t make sense. Most of these places that I’m referring to aren’t even big enough to have a lounge in the first place. As for airport smokers lounges, I haven’t seen one of those in the longest. I think a lot of them have been wiped out because of the anti-smoking zealousness that’s out there.

    And when I talk about smokers being forced to suffer, maybe that’s a bit dramatic. All I’m saying is that the availability of places for smokers to smoke is on the significant decline. The snon-smokers most definitely have the upper hand these days. To a degree that’s fine. I agree with keeping smoking out of most workplaces, and out of public government buildings. Even out of most restaurants, althoughI still insist it should be the restaurant owner and not the government that makes the call. And the same thing for bars. The bars know their clientele. And the clientele knows where they are comfortable, and they know waht to expect where they go. To allow government to stick its nose in and declare all bars off limits to smoking is ridiculous to me. And extraordinarily intrusive in a Big Brother type of fashion.

  8. The more I think about this, the more I think smokers really are facing a burden because of their addiction. You aren’t being dramatic when you talk about smokers being forced to suffer. They are. Where I think you’re being dramatic is in comparing this to Big Brother. My middle ground was allowing the creation of private smoker’s bars…not just lounges.

    But even this has problems…because non-smokers work at these bars too. They really are left holding the bag. But unfortunately the public’s health is a public good. Public goods are best handled by the government, and not by private market centered forces. They don’t work so well at this type of stuff…which is why we’re talking about making room for people with a deadly addiction in the first place. They wouldn’t BE addicted if it weren’t for private business.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: