I have long argued that any city-wide determination on whether or not the proprietor of a private business was allowed to permit smoking on his or her premises was draconian at best and unconstitutional at worst. If people think a particular bar is “too smoky”, they are free to drink or seek employment elsewhere – just as they are free to leave if they decide that the drink prices, seating availability, noise level, or any one of the other myriad characteristics of a particular watering hole aren’t up to snuff.
If people didn’t like the smoke, they can go to an establishment where cigarette use has been voluntarily banned. And if enough people make this choice, who am I to stand in the way of any organic change afoot. After all, the will of the people is the will of the people. But to me, banning smoking would be like requiring every bar to stock their jukebox with a particular set of albums – something that, no matter how agreeable it may be to a certain portion of the population, is not the job of lawmakers.
After my college years in Chicago (a city hilariously behind the curve when it came to smoking bans), I did a spell in Minneapolis, a metropolis that had just adopted the very anti-smoking initiatives I so vehemently opposed. As someone well-versed in the simple pleasure of chasing draft beer with a Camel Light from the comfort of a bar stool in a climate controlled environment, I was worried about how this was all going to pan out. Not surprisingly, it went just fine. Even during my darkest booze-induced nic-fits, the new rules felt more like a minor inconvenience than the fascist oppression for which I had braced myself.
By the end of of my stint in the Great North, I even gained some affection for this new world order. But just as I was getting to used to a smoke-free existence, I moved down to New Orleans, where – despite an increasingly long-list of bars and venues that have voluntarily banned the practice – you can pretty much smoke wherever the hell you please. It took approximately zero minutes for me to get re-acclimated to the wanton and borderless tobacco consumption that defined my time in Chicago; and you know what? It’s glorious, maybe even better than I remembered.
I have no problem with any smoking ordinances, and encourage everyone to faithfully adhere to any posted policy. But it is easy to forget that there was a time in the (not so distant) past when the idea of walking into any bar, a brick and mortar structure operating with the sole purpose of getting people intoxicated, that disallowed smoking was incomprehensible. If that bar or venue happened to be offering music of any stripe – from a local punk band to a well curated jukebox – then the idea was elevated to nothing short of absolutely ludicrous.
Whether or not smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol are inextricably linked is a tired debate in which I have no interest to participate; but there is something undeniably transcendent about the triumvirate of smoking, drinking and seeing rock ‘n’ roll music. The fact that this notion seems antiquated in this day and age of politically correct grandstanding and moral majorities only serves to make it more pertinent.
Second-hand smoke may not have a place at the table of a gastropub or in the uncomfortable booths of a Dallas-themed cocktail lounge, just as it has no place in grocery stores or on airplanes. But rock ‘n’ roll is from an entirely different provenance than goat cheese profiteroles or a French 75. Pretending otherwise is as embarrassing to those advocating anti-smoking measures in rock clubs as it is insulting to the tax-paying citizens who enjoy seeing a rock band the way G-d intended: through a faint, low-hanging haze; equal parts exhaled carcinogens and freedom.