Dying for a smoke

Last month I wrote about how Washington’s smoking ban forced elderly smokers out of the well-ventilated smoking lounge inside their retirement home and into the cold and rain of the “Butt Hutt” located 25 feet outside the building. Today the Evening Telegraph and Post reports on how an eighty-five-year-old man in Scotland died just two days after a smoking ban went into effect as he tried to step outside a pub to have a cigar.

As he walked across the lounge of his local, Mr Donachie stumbled forward and hit his head on the bar top before falling to the ground in front of shocked regulars…

His son Stewart said today he was angry his father, who he described as a “cheery lad” who enjoyed a couple of drinks, had been forced outside for his cigar.

He called for new provisions to be made for the elderly and disabled under the terms of the smoking ban.

He said, “During the day I’d always gone outside with him to have his smoke to make sure he was OK.

“I didn’t see him getting up that once and he fell and cracked his head against the bar. He died of a brain haemorrhage.

“I believe if the ban hadn’t come in then he would have been sitting at the table and he would have still been here today.

“I think there should be leeway for older and disabled people not to have to go out in the rain for a cigar or cigarette.

“A prime example was on Sunday night when the ban came in. I was in a bar when the staff had to push an old lad outside in his wheelchair. It is ridiculous.”

What do you think, nanny staters? Sounds like a good idea to me. Or should eighty-five year old men and people in wheelchairs be perilously forced out of doors to save healthy young bar workers from the ravages (ravages, I say!) of second hand smoke? If I haven’t run all of you off yet, answer in the comments.

And don’t forget, Jason’s “Smoking is healthier than fascism” t-shirts are available here.

[Via Leonardo at To The People.]


Screw caps get screwed

“Cork is a sign of quality for wine,” says Elisa Pedro, the Director of Communication & International Relations for APCOR, the consortium of Portuguese cork producers. That’s why she doesn’t have to worry about the increasing adoption of synthetic closures and screw caps in the wine industry.

Or does she? The press release she’s quoted in isn’t about the success of cork in a free market. It’s about a new Spanish law requiring eleven of the country’s wine producing regions to use only cork closures in order to qualify for Denominacion de Origen status. APCOR spins the law as an endorsement of cork’s quality, but in truth it’s an acknowledgement of cork’s defects. Successful products don’t need laws requiring their use. Protectionism is the last resort of an industry in decline.

Not coincidentally, 32% of the world’s cork production comes from Spain.

[Links via Fermentation.]


Apply for an IHS summer seminar

There are just a few days left to apply for one of this summer’s seminars put on by the Institute for Humane Studies. I attended two of the seminars as a student and a few more as an assistant over the past four years. The seminars are always a fun and stimulating way to spend a week with smart students, a motivated faculty, and, oh yes, free beer.

This year IHS is offering a brand new seminar:

Advanced Studies in Freedom, our newest seminar, was created with classical liberal students and recent graduates in mind. Our most in-depth seminar, participants will spend a week thinking critically and intensively about libertarian philosophy. It’s perfect for students who are already well read and conversant in the ideas of liberty.

Read more about the seminars and apply here.


High on religion

Speaking of atheism, a few neuroscientists have a new theory about how Judaism, Christianity, and Islam got started. From The Syndey Morning Herald:

Glad tidings of great joy: there could be a straightforward medical explanation for at least three of the world’s major religions. Moses, Mohammed, and Jesus all experienced revelations on mountains, but they were probably just suffering a form of altitude sickness, say a group of Swiss and Israeli neurologists, casting doubt in the process on the very existence of God.

All three felt, heard or saw a presence, experienced lights and felt afraid, say the brain scientists from Lausanne, Geneva and Jerusalem. But so have contemporary mountaineers who are more interested in ice picks and thermal undies than anything mystical – suggesting the dizzy heights may have the effect of turning ordinary mortals into prophets.

Note that the paper is published in the journal Medical Hypotheses, which the Herald describes as “positively boastful about giving a run to bright new ideas that haven’t been through the usual discouraging process of scientific peer review.”

I’m not sure what to make of that. But in a similar, perhaps more credible vein, Daniel Dennett’s new book looks interesting.

[First link via TMN.]


Trust me, I’m an atheist

“…those are not at all to be tolerated who deny the being of a God. Promises, covenants, and oaths, which are the bonds of human society, can have no hold upon an atheist.”

So said John Locke in his otherwise commendable “Letter Concerning Toleration.” I’d have thought the intervening 300 years would have made Americans more trusting of people like me, but University of Minnesota sociology professor Penny Edgell finds there’s still a long way to go:

From a telephone sampling of more than 2,000 households, university researchers found that Americans rate atheists below Muslims, recent immigrants, gays and lesbians and other minority groups in “sharing their vision of American society.” Atheists are also the minority group most Americans are least willing to allow their children to marry.

Even though atheists are few in number, not formally organized and relatively hard to publicly identify, they are seen as a threat to the American way of life by a large portion of the American public. “Atheists, who account for about 3 percent of the U.S. population, offer a glaring exception to the rule of increasing social tolerance over the last 30 years,” says Penny Edgell, associate sociology professor and the study’s lead researcher.

Edgell also argues that today’s atheists play the role that Catholics, Jews and communists have played in the past—they offer a symbolic moral boundary to membership in American society. “It seems most Americans believe that diversity is fine, as long as every one shares a common ‘core’ of values that make them trustworthy—and in America, that ‘core’ has historically been religious,” says Edgell. Many of the study’s respondents associated atheism with an array of moral indiscretions ranging from criminal behavior to rampant materialism and cultural elitism.

Considering that the most disruptive atheist in recent memory is Michael Newdow, I’m surprised we currently rank below homosexuals and Muslims on the list of whom intolerant Americans see as part of a shared society. We’re unorganized and don’t wear our beliefs on our sleeves. We’re not pushing for changes to marriage institutions. (We can already marry your daughters, even if you don’t want us to. Nyaah, nyaah.) Radical sects of us don’t go blowing things up. Other than having a suspicious amount of free time on Sundays, we fit right in.

Then again, perhaps that’s the problem. Religious, racial, and sexual minorities have endured painful struggles to create public identities and gain acceptance. Atheists haven’t, and haven’t needed to. Like the communists in the 1950s, we could be anyone. The friend, the neighbor, the coworker. The person who always seemed so trustworthy till that Richard Dawkins book was spotted in his living room.

Respondents to the survey call atheists elitist and in one sense they are right. Academia and the sciences are wide open to us. Educated Americans on the coasts are more tolerant of atheism. Unless we’re running for public office, no ceiling blocks our ambitions. Unlike other minorities, we have the luxury of not caring what other people think. And so we don’t.

So maybe we ought to be speaking up more. I don’t mean by forming advocacy groups or adopting pretentious new words like “brights,” but by being forthright when people inquire about our religious beliefs. I’m as guilty as anyone of equivocating by saying I’m “not religious” when asked rather than matter of factly admitting to atheism. This polite ambiguity prevents some awkwardness, but keeps atheism outside the boundaries of what is publicly acceptable and, ultimately, shows a lack of respect for ourselves and the people we interact with. Enough of that. We’ve got catching up to do.

[Via Rogier van Bakel, who more succintly responds to the survey, “bite me.”]

[Update 3/23/06: Evan at Coffee Grounds offers his experience as an atheist New Zealander introducing himself in Minnesota.]


Clover in the Seattle P-I

My friend Ula has beaten me to sampling coffee from the Clover coffee brewer. I’m extremely jealous; I thought living within walking distance of Five Guys and Pho 75 was nearly unbeatable, but living two blocks from the Stumptown Annex has its perks. Luckily, it looks like I’ll have my chance to try it at the upcoming Specialty Coffee Association of America convention in early April.

In the meantime, drink vicariously through these links: a feature story in the The Seattle Post-Intelligencer and a video of the machine in action at Elysian Coffee and Tea.



I’ve been remiss in not linking sooner to my friend Trapier’s impressive new project, Marketplace.MD. He’s created an impressive site dedicated to exploring issues surrounding consumer driven health care via essay contests and a number of weblogs.

The site’s primary weblog is frequently updated and impartial. Free Canada and Medical Liberty take a more free market view, as does Trapier’s excellent blog, Hayek, MD. Finally, to encourage debate, the site has an opening for someone to write a blog critiquing consumer driven health care.

The weblogs, especially Trapier’s, update often. Readers interested in health care policy should definitely check them out.


Cigarettes and coffee

Since Starbucks and smoking bans seem to be the only topics featured here lately, a post combining the two seems natural. A few posts ago I speculated about why we don’t have more bars catering to non-smokers. The opposite is true for coffee shops; smokefree options abound. This is despite the fact that tobacco and coffee seems to be just as much an established combination among some people as tobacco and alcohol is with others. Why the difference?

A comment left on Dan Drezner’s weblog entry about my previous Starbucks article is intriguing:

First, Starbucks changed Tokyo, where I lived for nearly five years in the mid-to-late 90s, for the better. Before Starbucks, it was impossible to find a non-smoking coffee shop and nearly impossible to find a coffee shop with a non-smoking section that meant anything. When I asked my friends and co-workers why doesn’t someone open a non-smoking coffee shop to cater to the hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of coffee drinkers who don’t smoke, they all uniformly poo-pooed the idea. It would never work. And then Starbucks muscled their way into Tokyo in a few locations and the place was packed consistently.

I haven’t been able to find any authoritative articles about Starbucks and smoking. However, as Starbucks has expanded into countries where smoking is more ingrained in the culture than it is in the US the company’s non-smoking policies have often been an issue. The repeated pattern seems to be that outsiders predict failure and are proven wrong when the stores succeed. Searching through the Google results for “Starbucks” and “smoking” uncovers some interesting anecdotes.

One of the more interesting finds is this Japan, Inc. article on how Starbucks’ entrance into Japan has impacted the country’s largest coffee chain, Doutour. The biggest effect has been the predictable increase in demand for specialty coffee. Starbucks made consumers willing to pay higher prices. Doutour took advantage of the situation by expanding its line of high-end stores, called Excelsior Caffe. Since then Starbucks and Excelsior have become rivals, the latter differentiating itself by its food offerings, smoking areas, and brighter lighting. Starbucks helped expand the market for gourmet coffee and created the market for smokefree coffee shops. Now Japanese consumers can enjoy good coffee in smoking or non-smoking atmospheres, depending on their preference. Read the whole article here.

A similar pattern seems to be at work in China. I didn’t find much on the subject, but this undergrad research paper reports that the non-smoking aspects of Starbucks stores has received a surprisingly welcome reception. The sample size in the smoking survey is rather small, however.

An article in Expatica looks at how Starbucks has been received in Spain. There, the clean, smokefree Starbucks are finding a ready clientele among women, Americans, and the “metropolitan elite.” Meanwhile, traditional Spanish cafes offering alcohol and a place to smoke continue to thrive.

Breaking into Viennese cafe culture was even harder, with Starbucks closing two of its stores in the city. Selling their no smoking policy required some finesse:

But reactions to the nonsmoking policy have been only positive, Holzschuh insisted. Signs in Starbucks read: “Aroma-Schutz durch rauchfreien Raum” — aroma protection through a smoke-free space — and then thank the customers for their understanding. “We looked for a sentence that said, ‘Dear guest, it’s not about your health, it’s about the coffee,'” he said.

The lack of cigarettes and alcohol put Starbucks at somewhat of a disadvantage, but it has apparently made the place an oasis for non-smokers and mothers with children. The larger stigma the chain has had to overcome is customers’ false belief that they’ll have to drink from a paper cup when they go there.

This last example is my favorite. Blogger “Lounsbury” takes down a LiveJournaler whining about the Starbucks that opened up next to his favorite Amman hangout, The Blue Fig. In addition to railing against new, elitist forms of coffee like the soy latte, he laments that Starbucks is destroying his culture by enticing people to enjoy coffee without smoking:

This is what really bothers me. It’s not that they’re ruining the service for Blue Fig or even Nescafe (which has always been Jordan’s choice for coffee), and not that they’ve introduced these elitist forms of coffee, but that they’ve annihilated our culture by depriving a new generation of the beauty of having a smoke with your coffee. Smoking is such a large part of our culture, and Starbucks is slowly making the new generation smoke-free. I can just see it now: in twenty years you won’t even be able to smoke in an elevator in Jordan anymore. This thought makes me nauseous and very helpless. Last night I even cried for like, five minutes.

Lounsbury replies:

So it is imperialism to have a Jordanian use an American brand of his own volition, because he rightly judged there is a completely uncoerced native Jordanian demand for something other than the usual fare. (Never mind the risible posing that somehow Blue Fig is not elitist….) Of course we should leave aside the utterly incoherent idiocy with regards to imposing smoking with coffee. Fetishizing one’s own preferences as “Arab” or “Jordanian” culture is rather more imperialistic than merely offering a choice (never mind the silliness of fetishizing smoking as something of Arab culture per se).

This contemptible idiocy is precisely the kind of moronic half-baked thinking that drives anti-globalisation movements. Inept, ill-informed self indulgent idiocy.

I like this Lounsbury character. I’ll have to start reading him.

Enough examples. Let’s look at the common threads. All of these countries had a strong culture of enjoying tobacco and coffee together. Outsiders predicted smokefree Starbucks would fail. Instead, Starbucks succeeds by offering a market alternative that no one else thought was feasible. The question is, why Starbucks and not a local competitor?

This is speculative, but perhaps it comes down to the consumer base. Part of the pattern seems to be that the corporation appeals to two fairly distinct groups. One is the women, mothers, and non-smokers who just don’t want to be in a smoky room. The other is the young, fashionable, urban elite. The latter is attracted not by the smokefree atmosphere per se, but rather by the cultural statement going to a Starbucks provides.

Any local cafe in these countries could have tried prohibiting smoking, but they would have been perceived as just like the other local cafes except not as good because they don’t let customers smoke. They might have had a shot at the first group of Starbucks consumers, but not the second, dynamic group seeking cultural innovation. Starbucks accelerated a transition toward smokefree coffee options that otherwise would have taken longer.

Keeping this process in mind, it starts to make more sense that coffee shops in the US are often smokefree while bars have been slower to change. Our cafe culture is younger, and therefore more open to the non-smoking model. In addition, coffee is recognized as a high-end beverage with important aromatics. The sign in Vienna declaring “aroma protection through a smoke-free space” would seem ridiculously out of place in the average American bar.

In short, American bar culture isn’t doing anything as transformative as cafe culture. It tinkers around the edges and comes up with creative new drinks, but doesn’t do anything to really change the experience of going to a bar. Smokefree bars appeal to people who really want that sort of atmosphere, but otherwise do little to distinguish themselves from the competition. (And as I’ve said before, I think the number of consumers who really care about this factor is small.) Thus they don’t get the accelerated acceptance in the US that smokefree Starbucks gets around the world. The change is more gradual — frustratingly so to the nanny state types who demand non-smoking everywhere, all the time, NOW.

That’s a lot of theory with not a lot of data points, so I could be very off the mark. Any thoughts?


USA Today’s Top 10 Coffee Spots

USA Today’s March 2nd “10 Great” feature “10 great places to get jazzed about great java.” Coffee reviewer Kenneth Davids made the recommendations, so it’s no surprise to find some winners on there.

Intelligentsia is one of the first high-end roasters I came across when I started exploring coffee seriously. I’ve had a few occassions to try their famous Black Cat espresso blend and enjoyed visiting one of their Chicago stores last spring. Portland’s Stumptown and Seattle’s Zoka are two I’ve tried in tastings but not visited personally, though I tried quite a bit of the latter a few weekends ago at Washington, DC’s Coffee Fest trade show. (If you’re in San Francisco, you can get Stumptown coffee and espresso at the wildly successful Ritual Roasters on Valencia.) Also in San Francisco, Caffe Trieste is worth visiting for the history and authentic Italian feel.

Other than a single shot of Terroir espresso and one visit to a Peet’s in Chicago, I don’t have experience with the rest. Anyone here who has?

[Cross-posted on Smelling the Coffee, where I’m now guest-blogging on all things coffee related. Some items I’ll crosspost, others will be there exclusively.]