Since my column on the smoking ban in the March 14 issue of Play, I've received several comments online and even a typewritten letter. As a follow-up I've decided to touch on some of the more pertinent reader comments and attempt to keep the overall discussion going.
Whether you're missing those places with the smoky air that made you feel at home, or are rejoicing at clean-smelling watering holes, it affects each and every one of us. To begin, as of this posting, the results of an online poll read that 77 percent of voters loved the ban, 21 percent hated it, and 3 percent said "what smoking ban?" This was from a total of 39 voters.
Love it or hate it, the ordinance has had an impact on our nightlife scene. For some it has meant that their nightlife scene is disappearing. Some were raised in a culture where ashtrays in the home were a social nicety and venues were expected to cater to smokers. This was pointed out to me in a letter that I received from a longtime Anchorage resident, who wrote about the ban causing her social life to decrease as the places she used to frequent no longer allowed her to enjoy what was, to her, a simple pleasure.
In a follow-up to my statement that "sometimes one persons' rights end where another's begin," the same reader commented that the "rights" issue also carries over to remembering that no one has the "right" to micromanage establishments or insist that people comply with practices just to make others happy. We do, however, have the right to choose which businesses we patronize, and which we do not.
Other comments on the blog, the online poll and the Play Bars/Clubs site ran the gamut. Some were highly positive, stating they were "thrilled." One said that I didn't "go out to the mom and pop bars" to ask about business, just the trendy places. True, maybe I should have visited a few VFWs, but I felt that a place like Darwin's Theory gave a good cross-section of the smoking and nightlife population.
One commenter added a poignant thought, pointing out that the ban is "not banning smokers from smoking, but instead [it's limiting] where they can appease their addiction." But isn't putting limits on people's activities almost as bad as telling them what they can and can't do?
Several comments questioned the validity of the statements I received from Erin Peterson of the Tobacco Prevention and Control Program regarding secondhand smoke. I also received several e-mails from Erik Meyers, the recent chair of Keep Anchorage Workplaces Smokefree!, who provided me with back-up information and health studies detailing the effects of secondhand smoke.
Including a US Department of Health and Human Services Surgeon General's Report that states that secondhand smoke exposure causes disease and death in children and adults who do not smoke, and that there is "no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke."
Other sites to visit, if anyone wants to see the statistics on secondhand smoke exposure, include some Heart Disease Studies on the Americans for Nonsmokers Rights site, and a fact sheet on www.tobaccoscam.ucsf.com . True, these sites may be biased, but the studies are generally well researched. I haven't seen any concrete studies on how secondhand smoke doesn't affect anyone negatively. At least not yet, anyway.
And finally, several comments spoke to the "times are changing," "nothing we can do about it" and "it isn't going anywhere" theme, which is an important point. Why are we still talking about it?
One comment even said that people are "over it," which begs the question - why am I still writing about it, hoping for feedback? Well, because even if we're over it, even if we can't do much about it, it's still important to let the party people, bar hopping patrons, and nightlife veterans have their say about hot button issues, and issues in general. Smoking and drinking are have a proverbial love affair, and when one is taken away, it's not a stretch to think it might impact the other.
And for me, that's newsworthy.
-- by Jessica Bowman