We now party in a world of smokeless venues, congregations of smoke clouds lingering above sidewalks, designated smoking sheds (of varying comfort levels) and divisions between smokers and nonsmokers.
Nearly a year ago, local voters endorsed a law to ban smoking in public places by a more than 2-to-1 margin, and on July 1, 2007, it went into effect and the nightlife scene changed forever.
But the issue is still smoking.
When reached for this column, some venue owners refused to comment, bristling at the mention of the ban. Most party people either love the ban or hate it, but many bartenders are torn — they admit hesitation to push patrons outdoors but relish that they now get off work with smoke-free uniforms.
Even Anchorage Assemblyman Dick Traini isn’t completely satisfied. Sure, in many ways this is the Anchorage he envisioned when he sponsored the no-smoking ordinance, but walking through a pack of smokers on his way out of a restaurant isn’t exactly ideal. But overall, Traini believes things have improved.
“I remember people saying the world’s going to come to an end. Well, it didn’t,” Traini said.
For the most part, he added, “it’s gone extremely well.
“I’ve talked to a lot of people that now enjoy clean air,” he said. “When we got beyond the ‘you can’t do this’ and the reality setting in … I think we’re doing fine.”
But for others like Chuck Edwards, manager of the Bradley House and husband of owner Berni Bradley, the ban has been bad for business.
“Our first month (business was) down 30 percent,” he said. “We still have people making comments to us about ‘how is the city able to tell you what to do on private property?’ We get those comments every day.”
Personally, I don’t want to smell like someone else’s habit just because I want a drink. I have felt the dry-throated underbelly of a secondhand-smoke hangover in the morning. I understand the reason for the ban because I have as much right in the bar as anyone else, and my preference is to keep the air — and my lungs — clean.
But I was also once a nicotine fiend. I understand the frustration of being told what to do with my own body and my choice of vice. I understand that smoking bans in Italy, New York City and places warmer than Alaska might be easier on patrons who don’t have to brave below-zero temps. And I know how it feels to be judged.
So for now I’m still on the fence. Everyone should have a choice, yes. But sometimes one person’s rights end where another’s begin. And in a bar, a smoker’s choice takes another’s choice away. Sometimes when something is dangerous, the safest choice wins, fair or not.
Smoking ban banter
“It puts my customers out on the street.”
— Barbara Jean Alberg, bartender, Darwin’s Theory, former smoker
“It’s definitely more positive than negative. People will say ‘I haven’t been here for years — it’s nice to come back and bring my family and not smell that in the air.’”
— Lori Wakefield, bartender for 12 years at Humpy’s, nonsmoker
“It really doesn’t matter to me, smoking or non-smoking, as long as the bar still has vodka.”
— David Beiswenger, bar patron, former smoker
“When you go outside at normal bars they treat you like a refugee. They’re making smokers look like you ain’t nobody.”
— Aaron Williams, bar patron, smoker
“We have a whole little new scene outside the door. It’s a nice little social gathering. People that don’t even know each other chat. The problem is getting enough ashtrays.”
— Jack Lewis, operating partner at McGinley’s Pub, nonsmoker
“Smokers will smoke, no matter what hindrances they encounter.”
— Hutch White, bar patron, occasional smoker
“I’ve heard that it’s hurting the day business more — old hard-core smokers come in just to have their coffee or beer, that have nowhere else to go. Now they don’t come in as often, and when they do they don’t stay as long.”
— Darwin Biwer, owner of Darwin’s Theory, nonsmoker
“The negatives of the smoking ban outweigh the positives in respect to my job as a musician. … Our audiences are going outside for a smoke multiple times during our hourlong set. In an art form where feedback fuels the intensity of our performance, it is more than a little frustrating to be bested by tobacco addiction.”
— Patrick Eblen, lead singer for rock band Dopiate, smoker, via e-mail
“Even standing outside freezing to smoke was worth not smelling like an ashtray the next day.”
— Sandra Morgan, bar patron, occasional smoker, via e-mail
“The real upside to banning smoking at venues is that there is this whole new group of people that fill the audience because before they did not want to hang out in a smoke-filled bar.”
— Marc Bourdon, band member of The Smile Ease, nonsmoker, via e-mail
“A lot of the places we play have made a little station outside. I’ve found myself ... just going outside to get a breath of fresh air. And I can take my drink, which I like.”
— Shawn Howland, lead singer of The Hoons, nonsmoker
“The nature of alcohol turns people that wouldn’t normally buy cigarettes into smokers. I know one of the guards (at the Great Alaska Beer & Barley Wine Festival) … let a young woman outside to smoke, but she didn’t want to go to the smoking area because then she would smell like cigarettes. I had to laugh, but I knew what she was talking about.”
— Annie Chavez, event manager of Aurora Productions, nonsmoker
“I have had complaints from people that there’s nowhere to smoke. … Tourists that come up are unhappy. Anybody that wants to try new pipe tobacco is not happy. This whole smoking ban has done my business no good. They’re hitting me hard.”
— Barb Aldridge, manager of Pete’s Tobacco Shop, smoker
“The biggest concern was whether or not some of the places we play would still get business after the smoking ban kicked in … but I can honestly say I haven’t seen any place we play take a hit. The crowds are still coming out.”
— Jesse Ferman, guitarist for Rebel Blues, nonsmoker, via e-mail
“A girl I work with was a chain smoker and heavy drinker and said she wouldn’t go to bars anymore because of the ban, cursed it up and down. … Now not even a year later she just quit smoking. Ha.”
— Michael Holtz, 32, musician, nonsmoker, via e-mail
“I would say I probably smoke a lot less when I’m out now since I have to go outside and cannot have my drink with me, especially since it is cold outside.”
— Sarah Pederson, owner of local production company Family Tree Presents, former smoker, via e-mail
“I think everyone would agree that we love not having to breathe it in every day.”
— Jamie Corpuz, bartender at F Street Station, nonsmoker
“I feel that the ban has made the jobs of the musicians I work with much more tolerable. It’s better for their stamina and for their voices.”
— Amanda Siverson, promoter/event coordinator, occasional smoker, via e-mail
“If anything our nonsmoking clientele has returned to Spenard happy about the smoking ban.”
— Laura “Star” Martin, promotions and public relations manager at Chilkoot Charlie’s, occasional smoker, via e-mail
What: In 2006, the Anchorage Assembly voted to expand a 2001 smoking ban in most public places. After a public vote endorsed it with a more than 2-to-1 margin in April 2007, the ban was implemented July 1, 2007.
Where you can smoke: At your home (unless you provide child care), in your car, outdoors as long as you are at least five feet outside the entrance to private buildings, 20 feet from municipal buildings and 50 feet from hospitals and medical centers. You must also be a “reasonable distance” from any enclosed space.
Report a violation: Call 343-4200 or submit a complaint at service.muni.org/cs.
Violations, so far: From July 1to Feb. 28, the municipality had received 76 complaints and issued two citations: one to the Tobacco Cache, one to Pete’s Tobacco Shop. Prior to the smoking ban, patrons could smoke at these venues.
“We try and get voluntary compliance when we can,” said Chris Tofteberg, city environmental sanitation supervisor. But when they can’t? “We typically ask for the fine, which is $100 for each violation.”
“Secondhand smoke kills about 120 Alaskans a year,” said Erin Peterson, data and evaluation manager for Alaska’s Tobacco Prevention and Control Program, “three times higher than the number that die from homicide and a bigger number than die from car accidents.”
From the standpoint of the state Department of Health and Social Services, the primary reason to put a smoking ban into place is to improve people’s health and specifically to reduce the effects of tobacco use and secondhand smoke.
“The damage caused (by secondhand smoke) is pretty immediate; you can see within five minutes it’s the equivalent of having smoked one cigarette. It’s been known to cause heart attacks if you have up to two hours of exposure,” Peterson said.
But, Peterson added, the upside “is that the benefits of getting rid of (secondhand smoke) can be pretty immediate as well.”
True? According to the Helena Heart Study on the Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights at www.no-smoke.org, the rate of heart attacks in the Helena, Mont., area declined by 40 percent while the smoke-free air law was in effect, and then increased once the law was suspended.
Puff it or snuff it?
What side of the smoking ban are you on? How have things changed for you when you go out to party? Vote or post a comment and let me know below.
-- by Jessica Bowman