Wednesday, December 13, 2006

A Dateline exclusive: Thirst Parlor or Gulag?

This week’s winner for best hyperbolic sentiment in a letter-to-the-editor goes to Glenn Stevens for his portrayal of the smoking ban as a dictator inflicting torture on the destitute. It was a chilling performance, almost Ceausescu-esque in its brutality. I, for one, am ashamed of my support of the smoking ban and my complicity in allowing this reign of violence to terrorize innocent Romanians, I mean smokers.

Let’s set aside the sarcasm and get psychoanalytical for a moment.* This letter, which at first glance appears to be nothing more than the effects of extreme nicotine withdrawal, is actually quite revealing. Despite all of the protestations concerning freedom and property-owner rights, the real reason that some smokers are so incensed over the ban is because it forces them to face the fact that they are hopelessly addicted. Freud might add that they are also exhibiting behavior consistent with a maladaptive oral fixation and that they subconsciously long to be nurtured by a mother figure, which means, if you buy into all of this, that Betty Crocker would probably do better at hawking smokes than the Marlboro Man, although I should add that many of Ziggy’s theories have been debunked over the years.

The situation chronic smokers** face in a post-ban society is analogous to a scene in the movie “The Lost Weekend” where the main character, a binge alcoholic, explains why he needs to have alcohol readily available, even during periods of sobriety:

What you don't understand, all of you, is that I've got to know it's around. That I can have it if I need it. I can't be cut off completely. That's the devil. That's what drives you crazy.

And so it is with hardcore puffers. It’s not necessarily that they can’t physically get through a horseshoe and a pint without lighting up, it’s the distress that is caused by knowing that they can’t reflexively slide a butt between their lips should that urge arise. And I believe the alcohol analogy is an apt one.

If I find out that the wedding reception I’ll be attending will be a dry one, it may temper my enthusiasm a bit, but it wouldn’t keep me from going, although the thought of being made to listen to REO Speedwagon ballads without the buffer of a slight buzz is pretty distressing. An alcoholic, however, would be utterly dismayed and would most likely decline the invitation, especially if that skimpy dress she just bought won’t conceal the necessary flask.

Likewise, hardcore smokers are now turning down invitations to eat and drink in public because of the embarrassing incontinence they would suffer. Without their drug, their eyes turn red and their noses run. They begin to twitch and turn surly, as if an Adam Sandler film festival were playing inside their head. Rather than bear the shame of revealing the depths of their jones, they stay home or travel to villages where it is safe for them to fix in public.

It’s sad really, that they’d rather fight than quit. But it’s their choice to inhale and I wouldn’t deny them that, they just can’t exhale all over the public.

*If this sentence doesn’t immediately send you searching for another blog, you are a faithful BFS reader indeed.
**Notice that I qualify so as to not paint all smokers with the same brush. Some do enjoy whatever pleasure can be derived by introducing smoke into the lungs without suffering from the vapors when in a non-smoking environment.


Dave H said...

Dan, in a capitalistic society where businesses are created out of a sense of need, supply and demand, if there was a want for smoke-free bars, why didn't they create themselves a long time ago without local government intervening as a public health issue? Don't get me wrong, I don't condone smoking in any kind of family restaurant environment but in a good old bar where "they serve hard drinks for men who want to get drunk fast", if there was a strong desire for a smoke-free atmosphere wouldn't they have already created themselves? I guess I'm just a less government kind of guy. Where have I gone wrong..what say you?

John Cocktosen said...


The question in both cases is whose freedom is most important.

The smoker's freedom to inject poisonous smoke into his/her body and exhale it into the air anytime, anyplace regardless if they are in a business open to the public? or

the non-smoker's freedom to effectively avoid poisonous smoke while also enjoying the freedom to patronize businesses that are open to the public? Whose freedom is more important?

As has been pointed out on this site several times rather effectively, business owners, in spite of living in the U.S., are NOT allowed to do as they please as long as they are open to the general public. It is not their right to foster an environment that is harmful to public health. It is their responsibility to conform to the rules and regulations that are created by those who have been elected by the public. That is what makes the U.S. great, the freedom to vote, and the freedom to voice an opinion without oppression from the government. I have never heard of the U.S. being great because of a business owner's ability to run a business in any manner they see fit.

The majority has spoken through their elected leaders. No more smoke. Business owners need to adapt and overcome or find another pursuit. Why are they any different from those who are laid off from Ford or Maytag? Sure it sucks, but they have to get over it and get on with it.

I too support less government, but not when my health, while visiting a business open to the public, is in question

nancy said...

I think that Dave may have it just a little wrong in stating that businesses are created out of sense of need, or supply and demand. Businesses SUCCEED because of those things. Plenty of businesses have been started and then folded precisely because there was no need or desire for their product.

But nonetheless, the smoking ban was not enacted in response to nonsmokers needs for somewhere to go. Clearly there were foreward-thinking establishments that were already smoke-free. The smoking ban was not enacted because a group of nonsmokers sued the city for smoke free access to every bar in town. In short, it really has nothing to do with the "desires" of smokers or of nonsmokers. It is a public health issue for everyone, regardless of your status as smoker, nonsmoker, beligerant smoker, righteous nonsmoker or any strata in between. It is very much within the government's responsibility to legislate this protection.

What is most disturbing to me is the hysteria among smokers...the "What's next?" syndrome that has become so popular and so, so tired. "What's next, no fried foods?" "What's next, no smiling?" or some other such ridiculous speculation. I'm sure something will in fact be next, but these immature rants do nothing to further the debate.

A while back there was a letter to the editor from the owner(?) of Maldaner's relating how his restauant had to make adjustments as the west side of Spfld expanded and provided more competition for Maldaner's. Businesses face these challenges every day. Creativity in the face of such challenges can help a business to succeed.

Bars and restaurants are not the only businesses regulated by the government for the good of public health. Tattoo parlors, daycare centers, hospitals, "gentleman's" clubs, and your local church's spaghetti dinner are all beholden to public health guidelines. I suspect that the reason you don't hear such outrage about strict rules regarding the disposal of medical waste is that it doesn't interfere with someone's "right" to light up while drinking themselves senseless. The smoking ban is not an issue of government interference or you'd hear a lot more outrage about these things too.

Dan, sorry about the extra-long post.

Dave H said...


A bar is not a government run entity. At least I hope not for now. Is it not a private establishment where the owner has the right to serve who he wants and who he doesn't want? Just ask Butternut Bob. Yeah Smokey's is open to the public but I don't go there because it is rampant with second-hand HIV...(Cocktoastin....I've seen you there on occasion). I go down the street to my heterosexual bar. Supply and demand.

I think it is a conundrum for you to say that “It is not their right to foster an environment that is harmful to public health.” Hello...alcohol in general is by far the worst public health issue ever. As we all know prohibition didn't work.

I don't condone smoking but I expect it when I go into a local bar. That's the risk that I assume when I go there to poison my liver. I don't rely on the government to protect me. All I am saying is that if there was a want and need for smoke-free bars, they would have already created themselves long ago and the health-nut boozers would be flocking to them. Only time will tell the impact this will have on drinking establishments. I guess we will see. In the mean time I will go light up at the Barrelhead.....if I smoked that is.

BlogFreeSpringfield said...

Dave H,

Nancy and Mr. Rosenrosen made some compelling arguments so I won’t waste our time restating them.

Why didn’t bars go smoke free before the ban if the demand from the public was great? I’ll tell you why. Because a lot of good-looking, single girls smoke and they won’t go to a smoke free bar. And if the girls aren’t there, the boys aren’t going either. The public will subject themselves to any number of dangers to get up next to a hot mama.

I generally agree that the forces of supply and demand should hold sway over the marketplace, but not when it comes to health issues. Should a barkeep be able to serve bathtub gin, provided his customers know that it is homemade hooch? Or is the risk of someone getting sick or dying great enough to insist on regulations on distilled beverages?

To me, the only way you can make a case against the smoking ban is if you can prove that secondhand smoke isn’t a serious enough danger to warrant the ban. If you oppose it on the grounds that business owners can’t, or shouldn’t, be told what to do, then how can you allow any type of health codes or regulations?

Thanks for commenting,

nancy said...

"A bar is not a government run entity"

No, but it is a government regulated entity and it should be. Just like when Dan pointed out laws requiring fire extinguishers and ample escape doors. Imagine a bar where no regulations were enforced. Handwashing and food preparation guidelines could be optional.

"Hello...alcohol in general is by far the worst public health issue ever."

Agreed, but the presence of alcohol anywhere does not affect my health if I choose not to consume it. Don't go into drunk driving. It's already against the law. What's next, your against drunk driving laws too?

"As we all know prohibition didn't work"

It didn't work. But smoking is not prohibited. Prohibition banned alcohol period. Smoking is still allowed. For crying out loud, smokers can step outside the bar and smoke all they want.

And finally, how do you see people in bars that you don't go to?

Anonymous said...

I have nothing constructive to add.

I just want to give mad props to John Cocktosen for his screen name.

"Fletch" is vastly underappreciated.

Dave H said...

Who is defending the right of the bar owner to attract a clientele that is profitable to his business? If smoke-free boozing is so attractive, there would have been several that popped up in Springfield already where people would be lined up out the door. Why weren’t there any? I haven’t heard anyone answer that yet. What you are all saying is very liberal “more government” point of view in that you need more government to protect you from yourself.

Although it is perfectly fine for any bar owner to ban smoking in his or her establishment, it is wrong for the state or city to walk into a private business and dictate a class of customers they may not serve.

If 75% of a business' customers decide they won't patronize that business anymore if it allows smoking, I guarantee that it won't. On the other hand, if 80% of a bar's customers want to smoke, so be it. Let's not have the government take over yet another facet of our daily lives. Let the market sort this out!

Time will tell how this smoking ban will affect local bar owners. Smokers will flee to the county pubs or just step outside. Will non-smokers step up to keep their local city bars in business? We’ll see.

I scare myself because I know this is a very libertarian point of view. Cocktoasten, I hope you didn’t invite Jim Leach to your Christmas party this year!

John Cocktosen said...


Part of my argument is that I could care less if some of the City bars go out of business. Some of them need to, and will, with or without a smoking ban. The good ones will adapt and overcome by attracting people who think it is worth stepping out to have a smoke as opposed to going to a bar for 40 year olds. So far I haven't seen the bars downtown suffering too much.

Why were there no non-smoking bars prior to the ban? There are a lot of reasons. One that comes to mind is that Springfield is simply not big enough to support such an establishment. There needs to be X number of non-smokers who care enough to go there and I don't think Springfield has the numbers. Chicago and St. Louis probably do, but that is just speculation unless someone has some first-hand info. I also believe that such a bar would have to cater to a wide-variety of tastes in order to succeed. If I was a non-smoker but hated the music played there why would I go?

And before you go there, I agree that the majority of regular patrons at any given bar are probably smokers. But it doesn't matter, as long as it is open to the public, public health concerns come first. And the alcohol thing is a weak argument. If alcohol is used responsibly it is not a threat to a non-drinker who is in the same room with a drinker. That is obviously not the case with the smoking debate.

The mentality displayed by smokers and yourself on this issue is quite foreign and puzzling to me. I will never get it I suppose.

Dave H said...

Maybe we can get Mayor Davlin to save me from myself in eating trans fats next because I don't know any better

BlogFreeSpringfield said...

Dave H,

The smoking ban wasn't put in place to protect smokers from themselves, it is to protect nonsmokers from secondhand smoke. Therefore, the trans fat argument is not analogous. You can sit next to me and eat as many Hardee's thick burgers as you can stomach and my arteries won't harden a bit.

"It is wrong for the state or city to walk into a private business and dictate a class of customers they may not serve."

Smokers don't constitute a protected "class". They aren't being discriminated against, they just can't light up in a bar. There are plenty of legal activities that you can engage in at home that you can't in a bar because of health concerns. If you want to have a beer and watch the Bears game with no clothes on at home, that's your right. Is it discriminatory to dicate that you can't do that in a bar? Or are you more liberal than you care to admit.

Thanks for commenting,

nancy said...

The argument that if there had been a need for non-smoking bars, we'd already have them could be used to prevent all kinds of positive development in a community. When it was time to build the Prairie Heart Institue or Memorial's Burn Center, couldn't you argue that if Springfield had had a need for such places, they'd already be here? Why build additional firehouses? We'd have them already if there was a need. Certainly if there was a need for improvements to the state's highways, they'd already be improved. A community cannot remain stagnant and a smart community will respond to studies which can help make it better in any number of ways. Smoking bans are where the entire country is headed. Hopefully there will be a county and then statewide ban soon to level the playing field for all bars in the Springfield area.

But in the meantime, Springfield bar owners are not being denied the right to serve smokers. And I'll be the first to defend a bar owner's right to attract a clientele that will be profitable to his business. My first piece of advice would be ACCEPT the ban and make non-smokers feel welcome.

CLJ said...

John to answer your question about smoke-free bars in Chicago. There are several I go to on a regular basis. These places have been smoke-free long before the Chicago City Council passed the smoke-free ordinance, which by the way still exempts bars.

These places are packed because they figured out a long time ago to attract people, smokers and non-smokers.

The demand has nothing to do with smoker vs. non-smoker. It's about how much fun you will have at a bar.

When I'm in Springfield, I go to a bar because I enjoy the bar and the people in it. I'm not going to go to the Curve Inn just because it allows smoking. I'll go to the Brewhouse or Frannie's because I like the place. When I smoke my cigarette I'll go outside. It's not real hard, unless you're at the top of the Hilton.

Dave H said...

I know I am beating a dead horse here, but if you do not like the smoke in a bar. Don't go there! That is your right. Start up your own bar that is smoke-free and attract that clientele. Why hasn't it been done already...because it would not make a profit in Springfield. I agree that there is a fine line in this argument, but I am on the side of not letting the government overreach its bounds and of all people I guess I would know that. By taking this liberal position, what you are saying is that the government is smarter than me. I am not smart enough to know that second-hand smoke is dangerous at continous pro-longed exposure and I need them to protect me from myself.

Dan, I wasn't trying to parrallel the smoking ban and trans-fats but I was trying to point out the overreaching bounds of government trying to protect me from what I already know is bad for myself. I have the freedom to not eat that angus burger. I could have just as easily gone down to the Subway and got a healthy turkey sandwich. The free market created that.

If your going to take this stance on the smoking issue than you damn well better take this stance when it comes to say abortion. Is this truly not a public health concern for the baby who does not have the ability to protect itself? Then we as a country should ban abortion nationwide because it is a public health issue. Just because the mother wants an abortion (i.e. smoker) doesn't protect the rights of an unborn child.

Anyway lets all go down to the Barrelhead and get drunk, pick up a skanky chick, drive her home drunk, have unprotected sex and get an STD, but by God don't blow that smoke in my face.

nancy said...


Is your attitude common among smokers that you know, or are most irate at the smoking ban?

It seems that if more smokers could keep their cool, we wouldn't need nonsmokers to be so outraged on their behalf.

Take it easy up there at the Hilton.

John Cocktosen said...

"I am not smart enough to know that second-hand smoke is dangerous at continous pro-longed exposure and I need them to protect me from myself."

Is that a statement? I guess we have swayed your opinion.

"Anyway lets all go down to the Barrelhead and get drunk, pick up a skanky chick, drive her home drunk, have unprotected sex and get an STD"

OK, are you driving? Pick me up at 8:00.

Paper Boy said...

Like the Abstract Prosaic, nothing to add to the debate, other than to say:

"What kind of a name is Poon?"
"Comanche Indian."

I like Zach Braff, but he will NOT do a better job as a revamped Fletch than Chevy Chase's original.

BlogFreeSpringfield said...

Zach Braff as Fletch? I'm not buying it. And I'm not watching it.

"Well somebody's bucking for a promotion...probably that pederast Hanrahan"

nancy said...

It's so nice how a little Fletch reminiscing can bring everyone together.

I agree.. I can't see Zach Braff having his wages garnishied. Dr. Dorian does not a Dr. Rosenfetus make.

Anonymous said...

"You ever seen a spleen that large?"

"No, not since breakfast."