Opinion » Bill Cope

In Spite Of

The crusade against smokers

by

There's this place. I won't tell you what or where it is. Just take my word for it ... there's this place.

If I am to be found enjoying a beer from somewhere other than my own refrigerator, it's likely to be in that place. Not so long ago, people would go there not only to drink but to smoke. The place is loosely connected to a restaurant and the owners had done everything they could to seal it off from the restaurant short of filling the connecting passage with cement. One could still get from the bar to the restaurant, but only after passing through two heavy doors that had heavy rubber strips around all sides, closing off any avenue that smoke might have into the restaurant. What's more, the bar was well ventilated so smoke didn't hover in the air. There were no complaints from the restaurant, and were any non-smoking drinkers upset that they couldn't enjoy their drinks with smokers around, they could always take their drinks out to the non-smoking sections of the establishment. Or they could have gone to any one of the joints that are so pleased with themselves over having converted to non-smoking bars. What I'm saying is: There were plenty of options.

Then the place got a visit from the state police--the division whose duty it is to see that businesses comply with non-smoking laws. Even though the transfer of smoke from the bar to the restaurant was next to impossible, the officer told the owners that, henceforth, smoking would not be allowed in the bar. Period.

The bar started losing patrons. It's not the sort of place that people go to order brightly colored martinis and be seen by people like themselves. It's the sort people go to drink PBR on tap, play the jukebox and smoke when they feel like it. And there are still plenty of other places they could go to do that. (At least, for the time being, contingent on what is decreed from the Boise City Council.)

The owners decided they had to do something decisive--"pro-active" as people in the martini joints downtown might say. So they converted a little storage room just off the far end of the bar from the restaurant into a smoking room. It, too, had a heavy door with heavy rubber strips for a complete seal around the jamb. Plus, there was a fan on the roof above this room that had enough suck to strip graffiti off the walls. It was so powerful, you had to hold onto your schooner with both hands if you'd been foolish enough to enter that room with a light beer. It was so powerful that, not only did no smoke escape the room even when the door opened, sometimes weak or decrepit people had to be held down by someone hefty enough to resist the pull.

I'm exaggerating. But not when I say the only way anyone outside that room would come in contact with smoke is if they went into that room. It was a solution to the owners' problem, the smoking patrons' problem, the non-smoking patrons' problem, and it worked.

It worked, that is, up until the time someone turned them in for having an illicit smoking room. The officer was not swayed in the least, I am told, by the fact that every party involved was content with the arrangement. (The owners are quite sure they were ratted out by a pair of oozing crud who had acquired a reputation for starting trouble in a myriad of ways and who, coincidentally, never came back to that bar after the anonymous call to the ISPD. I make a point of calling them "oozing crud" on the off-chance they are reading this and recognize themselves.)

Yes, I smoke. I'm not proud of the fact, but neither am I ashamed of it. I try to be a considerate smoker. I never blow smoke in the face of anyone, even another smoker. I never dump my car ashtray any place other than a proper trash receptacle. I never toss a butt, hot or cold, out of the car window. It makes perfect sense to me that children shouldn't be around cigarette smoke any more than they should be allowed to play in the exhaust of an ACHD dump truck. And I understand why non-smokers don't want to breathe my fumes, even if I must sometimes suffer through a soupy bank of their perfume or aftershave or barbecue effluvium.

When eating establishments abandoned the practice of providing smokers with a section of their own, I was irritated, but I learned to live with it, even though it was obvious that there are methods available to clear smoke from the air so fast others would hardly be aware it was there to begin with.

But when airports began to deny fliers trapped behind the iron curtain of security procedures a place to go for a quick smoke during a flight change, I began to suspect somebody was screwing with us. A conservative friend bitched to me about the smoking bans being further evidence that liberals were turning America into a "nanny state." But as a liberal smoker here in the Holier-Than-Thou Valley, I sense other influences at work, and they have more to do with piousness and spite than liberal or conservative. Let's call it the "we'll show you for not being one of us!" doctrine.

Again, there are ways to make a smoking environment smoke-free. And if a bar owner would choose to go to the expense and trouble of making such a place, he or she should be allowed that option. But that won't happen, not in Boise or any other smugly pretentious town. Not when it's simpler, more acceptable and more satisfying to kick smokers around than to give them, for once, a goddamn break.