I have a post up today at Blue Oregon, a leading progressive site in Oregon that aims to foster “a wide range of voices – from urban sophisticates to gun-truck-and-dog Democrats; from radical vegetarian leftists to cranky government skeptics.” My post is about the previously mentioned proposal to ban smoking in tobacco shops and hookah lounges. Judging from the comments so far, the site’s readership loses tolerance when it comes to consenting adults enjoying tobacco together indoors. However I’m glad to for the opportunity to write there, and perhaps additional attempts at liberaltarian fusion will be more fruitful.
I’m interviewed in a solid article in the Gambit about the effort to extend Louisiana’s smoking ban to bars and casinos. Of interest is this bit about how the market is providing the smoke-free venues consumers demand:
The campaign frequently partners with music venues to host a night of smoke-free music and events — and some of those venues, including d.b.a. and Tipitina’s, have made the switch to prohibit smoking in their clubs. Let’s Be Totally Clear now lists more than 30 New Orleans bars and venues in its smoke-free directory, from AllWays Lounge on St. Claude Avenue, to Chickie Wah Wah in Mid-City, to Maison on Frenchmen Street and Cure on Freret Street. This year, the directory added both d.b.a. and the bar at the Columns Hotel to its list of smoking-prohibited venues. Contreras says the number of smoke-free clubs in the city has doubled since 2009.
Republic made the switch in spring 2007, more than a year after it opened, and offers a smoking patio adjacent to the club’s main floor. Owner Robert LeBlanc’s other ventures like Capdeville, loa and LePhare also prohibit smoking. LeBlanc says the venues went smoke-free to protect employees, who LeBlanc says were formerly surrounded by “heavy, heavy smoke clouds,” though he admits he was “tepid” about the decision at the beginning.
“We have a pretty young workforce, so it’s not like we saw a lot of ill effects,” he says. “It’s just one of those things you just kind of see in the future — it’s not going to end well.” LeBlanc also works closely with TFL and says he is “very supportive in telling people the benefits in our experience, being candid and opening the books, for what we went through” making the switch.
But — surprise — LeBlanc wouldn’t support a ban.
“Bar owners and restaurant owners should have choices,” he says. “I’m not in favor of forcing people to do something against their will with blanket legislation.”
My only quibble with the article is that it doesn’t provide any rebuttal to overhyped claims of secondhand smoke’s dangers. Evidence to the contrary continues to go unreported. But overall, a really good piece.
These are bad times for smokers, but there is one bright spot. Bills in Washington would create new exceptions to the state’s smoking ban, arguably the strictest in the country:
Both of the introduced measures, Senate Bill 5542 and House Bill 1683, call for the establishment of a special state licensing program whereby businesses would apply to the State Liquor Control Board for endorsement as either a cigar lounge or retail tobacconist. These businesses would receive a license, which could be renewed each year, and in return, patrons could light up within these establishments.
No more than 100 lounges would be licensed as a cigar lounge at $15,000 per year. Up to 500 businesses, each paying a fee of $5,000 per year, could receive a retail tobacco license.
Business owners shouldn’t have to pay tribute to the state in order to allow smoking on their own property. But it’s better than nothing, and with cash-strapped legislatures looking for new ways to raise revenue this could be a good way to take back some of the ground lost to smoking bans.
Last year the Tacoma restaurant El Gaucho spent thousands of dollars building a 25 foot airlock to separate its cigar lounge from the rest of the property. The state ruled that even this was not sufficient to comply with Washington’s smoking ban.
I became aware today of a nasty new bill currently before the Oregon legislature. Since the state’s smoking took effect in 2009, only two types of businesses have been allowed to let their patrons smoke. The first is cigar bars, which can only allow patrons to smoke cigars, must have proof of tobacco sales from 2006, and must have a full on-premise liquor license, among other requirements. The second is smoke shops, which can allow their patrons to smoke various kinds of tobacco but can’t sell alcohol of any kind.
Predictably, a number of smoke shops have responded to the state’s comprehensive smoking ban by creating inviting spaces where smokers can light up. House Bill 2726 would drastically amend the rules for smoke shops, eliminating these lounges and possibly putting some of them out of business entirely. The bill would require smoke shops to generate 75% of gross revenue from sales of tobacco or smoking implements intended for off-premise consumption, would forbid shops to sell, offer, or allow the consumption of food and drink of any kind, would allow a maximum seating capacity of four people, and would permit smoking only for the purpose of sampling to make retail purchase decisions.
The primary target of this bill is hookah lounges, which activists are playing up as nefarious dens designed to hook kids on candy-flavored tobacco. However there’s no language in the bill that would prevent it from affecting regular smoke shops too; the word “hookah” doesn’t even appear in the text. If this passes it will be very damaging to a number of cigar shops.
There are two forces at work here. One is the class bias that favors cigars but forbids hookahs. Cigars are stereotypically enjoyed by the affluent. Hookahs are stereotypically for the young or Middle Eastern. Of course consenting adults of all types enjoy both products, but under this bill only the former would receive legal protection.
The second force is the paternalist desire to take all the pleasure out of smoking. The original smoking ban was supposedly implemented to protect against secondhand smoke and isolate smokers into a few enclaves all to themselves. With that accomplished, activists now turn to making smoking as unpleasant an activity as possible. Closing down smoking lounges is one example of this. You see it too in the ban on flavored cigarettes, in the call to ban menthol too, or in calls to ban flavored tobacco of all kinds, including pipe tobacco, which is not exactly the rage with kids these days. Or you see it in another Oregon bill that would classify nicotine as a prescription drug, a clear way to say that tobacco is only for addicts and not for responsible enjoyment.
The Oregonian supported the original smoking ban, but to its credit the editorial board has come out against this new proposal. They also published one of my columns in 2009 calling for smarter, more liberal regulation of smoke-friendly businesses:
The Legislature should revisit the smoking ban to make its bar exemptions more reasonable. For starters, the elitist exclusion of all forms of tobacco except cigars must go; there’s no justification for privileging cigars over other ways of smoking. Requiring cigar bars to have a hard liquor license instead of just serving beer and wine doesn’t make sense either. Nor is there any reason to limit seats to 40 or forbid lottery machines. Allowing lottery games and beer and wine sales would also help bring more revenue into the suffering state treasury.
Finally, the requirement that bars must provide sales receipts from 2006 should be eliminated. The law should apply equally to established business owners and new entrepreneurs.
Last night Portland lost one of its legendary figures, Don Younger, owner of the Horse Brass Pub. If you enjoy Oregon beer, you should raise a pint to him tonight. As a relative newcomer here the story’s not mine to tell, but suffice to say that he and his bar did a great deal to nurture the brewing community that’s made Portland justifiably famous for beer. Imbibe wrote about that history in one of their first issues. John Foyston has more in the Oregonian, and Ezra is collecting memories of Don at the New School. Many more tributes will be rolling in.
I’d read about Don and the Horse Brass before I’d moved to Portland and made a point to visit the bar on my first trip out here several years ago. When I finally did move here the Horse Brass became one of the first local bars where I felt at home. I loved beer, but it was also one of the best places to enjoy a cigar. Knowing few people in the city, it was a place I could visit anytime and strike up a conversation with whomever else was there at the end of the bar where the cigar smokers gathered. On one of these early visits Don was holding court at his usual spot, and though I didn’t meet him then I still remember the night. There was a young guy a few spots down from me nursing a beer and reading a book alone. Don called him over: “What are you doing, you don’t come to a bar to read a book!” Just like that the guy was introduced to the group and welcomed into the pub community.
A few weeks later I tried to meet Don myself. The statewide smoking ban was about to go into effect and I wanted to talk to Don for some articles I was working on. Many bar owners privately opposed the ban, but he was one of the few who actively fought against it. I had no luck getting an interview though: The bartenders informed me that Don was sick of talking to people about it. I ended up writing about the ban in the Oregonian anyway, not expecting to hear from Don. Then I saw him at the Horse Brass a few days later and introduced myself. Amazingly, he knew exactly who I was, said he loved my article, and that if he’d known who was asking for him he would have gladly talked to me. I’ve never been more flattered to find out that someone had read something I wrote. As intimidating as he was by reputation, in person he was as friendly as could be, the perfect publican.
A few months later I noticed something that cracked me up: He’d posted a clipping of the article in the hallway of the Horse Brass, right by the bathrooms, with some patron adding a graffitied mustache to my headshot. It stayed there for about a year. I may never win a Pulitzer, but how many Pulitzer winners can say they’ve had their writing displayed outside the men’s room of the Horse Brass? I’ll take it.
Unfortunately I didn’t get to know Don well after that. I spent less time at the Horse Brass after the ban, and reportedly so did he. But I do have one more story. The final night of smoking at the Horse Brass was not, in fact, the last night one could do it legally. A few days after the ban took effect Don allowed his regulars one more chance to light up in defiance of the law. Though I hadn’t arrived for this part, I’m told by others that Don called for patrons’ attention a half hour before we lit up to let everyone know what was going on. He said he knew that smoking is illegal now, but that he’d promised his friends they’d have one last session together. Anyone could leave if they wanted to, and he gave them the phone number they could call to report him, but this was going to happen. The bar burst into applause. And, of course, nobody called the number.
What a man. What a bar. Long live the Horse Brass.
In 2004, physicians Richard Sargent and Robert Shepard published a study making the astounding claim that a six-month ban on indoor smoking in the town of Helena, Montana resulted in an immediate 40% drop in the city’s rate of heart attacks. Ever since then it’s become sport among anti-smoking researchers to search for similar “heart miracles” in other places that have implemented smoking bans. Curiously, the miracles tend to get smaller as the populations get larger. Big effects were found in Bowling Green, Ohio and Pueblo, Colorado, but they never carried over to state or national levels. A recent examination of England’s heart attack rates could claim at best a 2.4% reduction, and that with dubious manipulation of the data.
This has led many critics to allege that the heart miracles of Helena and elsewhere are statistical flukes that emerge from small sample sizes. There is new evidence to support this view: A comprehensive study led by the RAND Corporation used data from throughout the United States to see if there is a relationship between smoking bans and rates of heart attacks. It found no statistically significant effect. Further, it found that rates in populations comparable to those cited in previous studies are highly volatile and on average cancel each other out. This suggests that the many studies claiming large effects are the result of publication bias, not actual declines caused by smoking bans.
Tobacco researcher Michael Siegel, himself a supporter of smoking bans, sums up the significance of the study:
Without a doubt, this is the most definitive study yet conducted of the short-term effects of smoking bans on cardiovascular disease.
To give you an idea of the scope of this study compared to previous ones, the Helena study involved a total of 304 heart attack admissions in one community over a period of six months. This study examined a total of 673,631 heart attack admissions and more than 2 million heart attack deaths in 467 counties across all 50 states over an 16-year period.
The case for comprehensive smoking bans leading to immediate reductions in heart attacks has never been strong and now there is substantial evidence against it. Jurisdictions that have not yet imposed smoking bans have one fewer reason to do so; those that have should restore business owners’ rights to set their own policies, as the Dutch have recently done.
I would like to think that the anti-smoking movement and press would acknowledge these findings, but I’m not optimistic. As of now a Google News search for “smoking ban RAND Corporation” yields only one result, in contrast to the dozens or more that usually follow reports of sudden declines.
An Oregon heart miracle?
Today is a good day for small bars in the Netherlands:
From today smokers in Holland will be allowed to light up in small owner-operated bars that are less than 753.5 square feet in size and have no other staff.
The 280 cases currently going through court for pubs allowing people to smoke inside will be dropped.
UKIP MEP for the North West Nuttall said he was “very pleased that the Netherlands authority has allowed common sense to prevail” and relax the ban.
“We know the smoking ban has had a serious detrimental effect on pubs,” he said. “It is absolutely bonkers.
“The way the ban came in was very underhand.
“I hope the Government will take what has happened in Holland on board. I hope it will happen here.
“We should have the option for smoking rooms in the UK, it should be down to the licensee.”
You know what to do.
[Originally published at the American Spectator on the 75th anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition on December 5, 2008. Happy Repeal Day!]
Seventy-five years ago today Utah ratified the 21st Amendment and brought the United States’ dark age of Prohibition to a close. The very first Repeal Day was cause for raucous celebration, but since then the anniversary has mostly languished in obscurity. This year December 5 is finally getting the attention it deserves, thanks in large part to Oregon bartender and founder of RepealDay.org Jeffrey Morgenthaler. Tonight drinkers throughout the nation will raise a glass to freedom.
As we toast, we should also reflect on how the spirit of the Anti-Saloon League lives on in the continued growth of the nanny state. Just as the teetotalers of the previous century held governments in thrall, so today do various do-gooders persuade city councils and state legislators to restrict our choices “for our own good.”
Yesterday’s demonization of drink is reflected most clearly in today’s anti-smoking crusade. The speakeasy has been replaced by the smoke-easy as bar owners hide ashtrays from sight from meddling health inspectors. Smoking bans have gone from California oddity to standard practice, creeping to ever more absurd extremes. Outdoor bans are increasingly common, extending to wide open beaches, parks, and golf courses. Dedicated cigar bars and tobacco shops are under fire. Even the home, the last refuge for many smokers, is no longer free from the government’s encroachment in some cities.
Though smoking remains legal, legislators are doing everything in their power to make it as expensive and unpleasant as possible. Smokers are an easy target for tax hikes and cigarette taxes now exceed any reasonable estimate of smoking’s social cost. Federal taxes on cigars may soon rise from five cents per stick to as high as three dollars and this year Congress came perilously close to explicitly forbidding certain types of cigarettes. Their only hangup was over whether to ban all tobacco flavorings or merely some of them. [Update: Since this was originally published, Congress has banned most types of flavored cigarettes.]
Politicians interfere with what we eat as well. Transfat bans are becoming the trendy new public health measure, led by Michael Bloomberg’s successful campaign in New York — the same city where chain restaurants must now make nutritional information not merely available, but prominent, regardless of whether customers really want to be reminded of how many calories lurk in their combo meals. American cheese lovers lament the restrictions on young raw milk cheeses, readily available in Europe but blocked domestically by risk-averse regulators who wouldn’t know Camembert from Kraft. Can restrictions on salt, caffeine, or high fructose corn syrup be far behind?
Then there’s the legacy of Prohibition itself. Though the 21st Amendment legalized alcohol sales, state regulations impede truly free markets. The ubiquitous three-tier system of producers, distributors, and retailers has spawned countless laws benefiting middlemen at the expense of consumers. Constraints on direct sales increase the cost of alcohol while bans on shipping make it impossible to order boutique spirits, wines, and beers. Even as the Internet has granted consumers access to the abundant long tail of countless goods, drink lovers remain trapped in a 1930s model of distribution.
Finally, we should acknowledge our contemporary struggle with prohibition. The war on drugs has led to gang violence, trampling of civil liberties, and military interventions abroad. Federalist principles are routinely ignored in medical marijuana raids, doctors face prosecution for prescribing painkillers, and ordinary adults must show their ID just to purchase effective cold medicine. The United States now has more than 300,000 people imprisoned for drug violations.
The ratification process of the 21st Amendment holds a lesson for today. All other amendments have been ratified by state legislatures, but this was different. Fearing that rural lawmakers would not bear the ire of the temperance movement, Congress sent the 21st directly to the people assembled in state conventions.
Bringing the modern nanny state to heel will depend on countless individuals standing up against those who would trade our liberties for their preferences. On this Repeal Day, raise a glass to freedom regained and to freedoms still to be won. Cheers to the 21st Amendment!
About a year ago I criticized a “study” from Mississippi State University alleging that implementation of a smoking ban in Starkville, MS caused a dramatic decline in heart attacks. The problem was that the study was in fact just a press release and the data from control groups hadn’t even been collected yet. Without control groups there was no justification for asserting that the decline in heart attacks was caused by the smoking ban rather than other factors. I challenged the authors, Dr. Robert McMillen and Dr. Robert Collins, on this point and they declined to respond, saying only that they would continue their research when more data arrived.
Now the data is in and they have released another study confirming their hypothesis. To their credit they have control groups this time. What they don’t have are tests of statistical significance. I’ll hand it over to Michael Siegel:
This study violates the most fundamental principal of epidemiology and biostatistics: you must evaluate any scientific hypothesis to see whether the results could be explained by chance. In other words, you must determine whether your results are statistically significant.
A persistent flaw in studies of this type is reliance on small population sizes to extrapolate an exaggerated effect. This one appears no different. Siegel again:
I did my own calculations based on the results reported in the study and based on a conservative estimate which maximizes the likelihood of finding a statistically significant difference, I found that the difference between the two rates of decline was not even close to being statistically significant. [...]
For these findings, which are exquisitely sensitive to a simple shift in one heart attack here and one heart attack there, one must not put any confidence in their statistical meaning. Clearly, the role that these are just chance differences cannot be ruled out given the small sample size. Nevertheless, the study goes as far as telling us the exact cost savings from the heart attacks averted due to the smoking ban.
McMillen and Collins are getting closer to doing real science. Close, but still no cigar!
Over at the Examiner I take a look at Michael Bloomberg’s latest attempt to make life worse for smokers, a ban in parks and beaches:
It’s no wonder that some non-smoking residents support the ban. They have nothing to lose and they’ve been hit with fear-mongering propaganda for years, such as Action on Smoking and Health’s dire warning that “If you can smell it, it could be killing you,”or even worse, uncritical reports about “thirdhand smoke,” the residue left behind on room surfaces when tobacco is lit. So firmly has the toxicity of tobacco smoke been in implanted in the public’s mind that activists no longer feel the need to demonstrate that it causes harm; the mere ability to detect its traces with fancy lab equipment is enough to raise a panic.
Whole thing here.
Cheers to the veterans at American Legion Post 444 in Baraga, Michigan, in the Upper Peninsula, who are challenging the state’s smoking ban in court and refusing to comply:
During the next two months, several citizen complaints were filed about the post’s noncompliance, and local health department officials sent notices of violation. Geroux responded with a news release July 16 that described the new law as unconstitutional and un-American.
Further, the exemption for Detroit’s casinos (which was based on their need to compete with American Indian casinos not covered by the state law) is “wildly unfair” to the Baraga post, which lies within a mile, and competes for customers, with two alcohol-serving, smoking-acceptable tribal facilities, Geroux said.
After getting a cease-and-desist order from the health department July 20, the post decided to sue.
I wrote against the Michigan smoking ban for the Detroit Free-Press back in 2008.
[Thanks to Jan for the link.]
This blog has previously chronicled attempts to scare people into persecuting smokers based on trumped up fears of “thirdhand smoke,” residue left on clothes and furniture after a smoker lights up. New research attempts to measure levels of this residue directly by artificially re-suspending particles left behind by a smoking device:
These quantitative data support the hypothesis of a resuspension from the cigarette smoke surface contamination. However, this airborne contamination through resuspension remains much lower (100 times) than that of secondhand smoke.
In other words, there’s nothing to worry about.
UK Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg made a lot of favorable headlines recently by launching the Your Freedom website, allowing citizens to suggest laws that should be repealed. In a new video he reveals that there are at least two suggestions that will “of course” not be taken seriously:
1) Reintroducing the death penalty; and
2) Allowing people to smoke in private businesses
Because clearly, these ideas are equally at odds with liberalism!
Just when I thought I was out they pull me back in! Though living in Portland I can’t completely resist the lure of DC, so I’ve joined the blogging team at the Washington Examiner. It’s good to get back to the policy writing I’ve been neglecting lately and publishing there it will reach a larger audience. I’ll link to most of the things I write for the Examiner on this blog too. If you’d like to subscribe to all Opinion Zone blog posts the RSS feed is here.
My first post takes a look at how anti-smoking researchers spin this chart into proof that England’s smoking ban saves lives:
The best they can come up with is to dubiously attribute a 2.4% decline in heart attacks to the smoking ban in the first year of its implementation. This is in stark contrast to the wild claims of 40, 27, and 18 percent in previous studies, which have been decisively revealed as junk science.
In the wake of this statistical drubbing you might think anti-smoking activists would learn not to attribute too much to secondhand smoke. Well, you would be wrong:
A new study published online ahead of print in the Archives of General Psychiatry concludes that secondhand smoke exposure is a cause of mental illness, including depression, psychoactive substance use, schizophrenia, delirium, and mental and behavioral disorder (see: Hamer M, Stamatakis E, Batty GD. Objectively assessed secondhand smoke exposure and mental health in adults.
Here we go again!
[Image courtesy of the always interesting Christopher Snowdon.]
Starting Monday, Starbucks customers are welcome to sit outside and sip a while — as long as they don’t light up. The international coffee giant is extending its ban on indoor smoking to outdoor patios and dining areas in California.
The change was prompted by an increasing number of communities that have enacted smoking prohibitions in outdoor dining areas.
Portland has more LEED certified buildings than any other city in the US and, as long-time readers know, I’m not a fan of this. Lately there’s been some backlash from other quarters as well. Architect Frank Gehry commented this week that the certification is awarded for “bogus stuff” and is primarily political. Progressive blogger Matthew Yglesias also linked recently to a post about a new book from New Yorker writer David Owen that slams LEED certification as a form of greenwashing:
It’s a little known fact that most architects, particularly the ones who take sustainability seriously, all hate LEED. With its prescriptions and brownie points for bike racks and proximity to alternative fueling stations, LEED is — in Owen’s estimation — both too difficult and too easy. Too difficult because the process is stupifyingly bureaucratic, requiring even LEED accredited designers to hire expensive LEED accredited consultants to manage the paperwork. And too easy because even after much refinement, many designers and developers still game the system with a few cosmetic changes to achieve LEED certification with a minimum of effort, expense, or innovation.
My own objection to LEED certification stems from its politically correct hatred of smoking, even when conducted outside the building:
It turns out that LEED certification considers six categories of evaluation, one of which is indoor environmental quality. If tobacco smoke is considered a pollutant, banning smoking is one way of addressing it. One could make a plausible case that LEED certified buildings shouldn’t allow smoking indoors, where habitual smokers could pump a lot of smoke into the ventilation systems. But in proximity to an exterior door? Or on a balcony? There’s absolutely no scientific justification for banning this. Walking by a smoker on the way into the lobby is not going to kill anyone. It’s annoying, perhaps, but it’s not a matter that needs to be addressed by green building codes.
It is technically possible to allow smoking in or around LEED certified buildings, but in practice certification is often used as a reason to ban it. The demand for LEED certified residences has made it harder for smokers to find accommodation in cities like Portland and DC. This could be an acceptable trade-off if the program led to demonstrably greener construction, but if its benefits are merely cosmetic we shouldn’t place much value on it.
It doesn’t happen often enough, so here are two pieces of good news related to smoking bans. First, Governor Schwarzenegger has vetoed a bill that would have prohibited smoking in all California parks and beaches:
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Monday vetoed a measure that would have banned smoking at state parks and beaches, calling it “an improper intrusion of government into people’s lives.”
Schwarzenegger, whose cigar habit led him to build a smoking tent at the state Capitol, said in his veto message that the proposed regulation, which would have been the most far-reaching tobacco legislation in the nation, went too far. Such rules should be left up to cities, counties and local park officials, the governor said.
“There is something inherently uncomfortable about the idea of the state encroaching in such a broad manner on the people of California,” the veto message said. “This bill crosses an important threshold between state power … and local decision-making.”
Then just a few minutes from my hometown in Conroe, TX, the city council has reversed a ban on smoking in bars in record time:
Two months after enacting one of the most comprehensive smoking bans in the area, the Conroe City Council has removed bars from the new ordinance because of the economic impact it was having on business owners.
“I lost $15,000 in March,” said David Luttrell of Malone’s Pub. “It was like someone pulled a switch. I lost $15,000 in April. I had to lay off four employees and seven bands. It has also affected my suppliers and vendors too.”
After hearing similar stories from other bar owners, the council reversed its position Thursday to allow smoking in bar, which are defined as “pubs, ice houses, beer joints and saloons.”
[Hat tips to the Stogie Guys and my dad.]