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May 08, 2005

Austin Bloggers React to the Smoking Ban

By Byron LaMasters

Pandagon, Norbizness and Urban Grounds are not happy about the new Austin smoking ban. I was genuinely conflicted about the ban. I made up my mind only about 10 minutes before I cast my vote - a rarity for me.

As a progressive and as a Democrat, I was quite conflicted. Several governmental principles that I value came into conflict. On the pro-ban side, I valued the idea of protecting bar employees from second-hand smoke. I believe that all employees should be able to work in a safe environment, and second-hand smoke is definitely harmful to one's health.

On the anti-ban side I agreed that business owners should be able to decide what is best for their business. As a Democrat, I believe that as long as a business pays their fair share of taxes, pays their employees fair wages and benefits, supports the local economy and environment - then they should pretty much be unrestricted by government in the decisions that they make regarding their business. This was the best argument that the anti-ban folks made, and I had sympathy for the their position. Another good argument against the ban was that previous anti-smoking restrictions were placed on some establishments two years ago. Many of those businesses spent thousands of dollars to comply with the new restrictions by installing separate ventilation systems. It's bad for business to force them to spend lots of money every two years to meet new requirements.

However, the selling point for me was the UD/CAD/APC endorsement meeting. At that meeting the speaker for the ban, David Butts, made a very passionate speech in favor of the ban. Butts is an Austin Democratic political consultant for which I have a great deal of respect. On the opposing side, the anti-ban speaker made several of the aforementioned arguments, but also several very un-compelling ones. The idea that live music in Austin will die, or even seriously suffer because of the ban lacked substantial proof. Furthermore, some of the anti-ban spokesmen questioned the risk of second-hand smoke. That's silly. There are good arguments and bad arguments for and against the ban, but those two were bad.

Studies have shown that smoking bans may have a short-term negative effect on some businesses, but in the long term I doubt that it will make a difference. Seriously, does anyone really believe that San Marcos will replace Austin as the live music capitol? In fact, I know a good number of non-smokers that have said they would go out more to clubs and bars if there is a smoking ban. I personally will take issue with Urban Grounds on his assertion that people who voted for the ban will not go out to bars and clubs. Well - I voted for the ban, and spent a good deal of money last night at bars and clubs on 6th and 4th street. I had a few drinks, and didn't smoke (or drive for that matter). I had a good time, and was more than happy to support the Austin economy.

Posted by Byron LaMasters at May 8, 2005 12:12 PM | TrackBack


you are going to love the ban. I wouldn't have voted for it here in CA, but about a week after it went into effect, I was at a club and it was late and I suddenly found myself thinking "i feel great -- hey, i'm not rubbing the smoke out of my eyes...this is really terrific", not to mention not having everything you own smell like smoke the next day. I have quite a few friends who still smoke out here and they all like the ban. Turns out their eyes bother them too. Owner-run bars (w/no other employees) still allow smoking, but I just won't go to them anymore -- smoke so thick you coudl cut it with a knife. Eccch.

Posted by: halle at May 8, 2005 05:54 PM

Byron, I think that you are the exception (hell, I'll go so far as to call you exceptional); you were already supporting the bars, clubs, and live music scene. And I'm willing to bet that you would have continued to do so had the vote turned out the other way around.

But I'll bet a very high percentage of those who voted for the ban were not already supporting those places, and furthermore, won't now that they've gotten their way.

Posted by: Robbie at May 8, 2005 08:00 PM

Byron, I was exactly the same way about the ban. I saw it both ways, I was really conflicted. Most of last week I was telling people that I was just going to decline to cast a vote on that one item.

What clinched it for me was the article in the Chron detailing the opinions of bar owners who are *for* the ban, for no other reason than they were losing business to neighboring bars who could legally be more lax with their smoking customers. I suddenly started seeing all of the arguments from bar owners as just people arguing over how best to use the law for their own business interest and against the interest of their competitors....keeping the ban gives the smoky places a competitive advantage in attracting smoking customers, and all this talk about "killing live music" started to seem like just a (ahem) smoke screen.

I've been to SF and to NYC since their bans, and their bar and club scenes are as strong as ever.

Once I reached that realization, once I started just disregarding all the economic arguments as business jockeying against competitors, then I was free to just look at it purely from the public health perspective. Why are bars and clubs, out of all other businesses in the state, "special" when it comes to the arguments for and against smoking? I couldn't think of a reason.

I voted for the ban. Not strongly for, but the against crowd just didn't make a strong enough case.

Posted by: rayinaustin at May 8, 2005 08:44 PM

I hate smoking bans, but it looks like they have pretty much conquered America. Most of all, I'm confused at the black and white approach we have taken to this issue. I know it's not really an offshoot of drug puritanism, but with all the ridiculous anti-smoking commercials that are jamming the air these days, I can't help but connect it with what I think is a resurgence of puritanism wrt alcohol and tobacco.

Second, I think the argument about second-hand smoke endangering workers is specious. Lots of people work dangerous jobs. They take those jobs with full knowledge of the risks involved and weigh them against the job's pay and benefits. Heck, my job requires me to sit in an uncomfortable chair and type much of the day, greatly heightening my risk of various joint and bone problems.

Finally, why is it a necessity for us to outlaw smoking entirely? I am told by all my friends who support smoke bans that there is simply no market for no-smoke bars if all other bars are smoking. Since there are no no-smoke bars in any cities I have been to, I assume this is correct. This just implies to me that if we are interested in this kind of legislation, it should be in the form of tax incentives for no-smoke bars. Then everyone is happy and they can choose what kind of bar they want to go to.

Posted by: Austin at May 8, 2005 11:45 PM

The history of the EPA and second-hand smoke is instructive. To accomplish a public policy goal, they made up the science.

Posted by: snrub at May 9, 2005 08:40 AM

The tipping point for me was the behavior of the anti-ban people; who were misleading if not lying all over the place about

(a) the market creating non-smoking venues on its own (hint: The Cactus Cafe is non-smoking because of UT rules; the handful of downtown venues that are now non-smoking had to do it because the older restaurant ban made it impractical to continue that way; in neither case did the market do it).

(b) the number of non-smoking bars (the claim that 400 out of 600 are non-smoking only holds up if you consider a TGI Friday's as much of a bar or even live music venue as an Anthone's).

Once the anti-ban people started trotting out those chestnuts, they lost any chance at my support.

Posted by: M1EK at May 9, 2005 09:50 AM

I am a bit conflicted, but since I live in Williamson County, I couldn't vote.

Nonetheless, I am one of those bar smokers. Meaning I don't smoke unless I am at a bar.

Even then, during the wintertime, I hated going to my favorite bar, because of all the people smoking inside.

In fact, the group I go with, would bring heavier coats than necessary, so we could avoid sitting inside. More than one night we skipped going to this bar, because of the smoke.

However, I do recognize that bar owners have a legitimate cause to set their own smoking policy. If they don't want non-smokers business, that is their choice.

However, these arguments that the smoking ban will kill business in bars, is disingenous at best.

Whenever I would travel to California for business, the bars were just as busy as any in Austin. The ones I would go to, had nice patio areas for the smokers, to boot.

I guess I am one of those take it or leave it types, except when it comes to the silly claims of how a smoking ban would kill Austin's bar scene.

Posted by: David (Austin Tx) at May 9, 2005 09:55 AM

I'm glad to see so many people taking issue with the deceipt spread by the anti-ban group. I was afraid their fear-uncertainty-doubt campaign had gone unnoticed.

In making my decision on this issue, I took a look at who was behind both sides. On the pro-ban front, there was the American Cancer Society and the Lance Armstrong Foundation. On the anti-ban front, there were some business people complaining about their potential diminished profits. Between the two, it was easy to see which side might have the most genuine concern for the patrons and employees of these businesses.

thanks for supporting this initiative, Austin.


Posted by: Seth at May 9, 2005 10:31 AM

Nicotini anyone?

Posted by: Scott Johnson at May 9, 2005 10:39 AM

Well, now that the smoking ban has passed, I guess the bar owners who whined that the ban would kill their busines can make a decision wether to comply or find another way to make a living. As that was their throw-down to us non-smokers who would like to give them our money if only...

Posted by: CrowMudgen at May 9, 2005 03:53 PM

"Why are bars and clubs, out of all other businesses in the state, "special" when it comes to the arguments for and against smoking"....

Well in the case of bars it's because you go there to drink poison!

Posted by: Jeff at May 10, 2005 04:11 PM
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