Don’t tax me, tax them!

The Oregonian ran a couple of good op/eds recently on proposed state tax hikes on beer and tobacco. The Pigouvian case for higher taxes on alcohol is arguably stronger than that for additional taxes on cigarettes, but opposition to the former tax is much more vocal. Elizabeth Hovde notes the hypocrisy:

[…] when it comes to cigarettes, a lot of Oregonians — perhaps many of the same Oregonians fighting a beer tax increase — insist on hefty taxation. They rail on about how smokers’ unhealthy choices need to be charged (paying no attention to the cost savings associated with smokers dying younger than the healthy population). The nonsmoking majority has gone so far as supporting a law that forbids smoking in private businesses, even if people never have to frequent a smoky joint and even if no wait staff ever has to serve a smoke-filled area.

While beer fans have organized vanpools to public hearings in Salem using Facebook and Twitter (the group No New Oregon Beer Tax on Facebook boasted 3,117 members as of Wednesday), Gov. Ted Kulongoski’s idea to put a sizable increase on a pack of cigarettes is sitting pretty well with the public.

Right now the tax on a pack of smokes is $1.18. Kulongoski and other lawmakers want to add on another 60 cents per pack and levy a 25 percent increase in other tobacco taxes. Where is the outrage? Those who belly up to smoke-free bars ought to think about the double standard.

Oregon has a lot more beer drinkers than it does smokers. For that reason alone, piling onto the unpopular smoking minority is more likely to succeed than increasing the state’s beer tax, which is one of the lowest in the nation (not that I’m supporting that tax either, mind you).

The second column is a guest piece by Steve Buckstein, making an additional case against the tobacco tax hike. Read it here.

Cato’s Tom Firey and I wrote about similar tax proposals in 2007 for the Journal-Sentinel.


Oregon is for beer lovers

For those of you who oppose Oregon’s proposed beer tax hike, the Green Dragon Brew Pub is offering the most fun way to protest. Tomorrow they’ll be having a ceremonial dumping of beer, inviting brewery owners to talk about the tax, suggesting letters to send to state representatives, and temporarily raising prices to their estimated 2010 level. The first 100 people to show up get an “I <3 Oregon” pin and tax relief.

The Green Dragon is at 938 SE 9th Ave and the party starts at 5:00. More details available at the Oregon Econ blog.


The OLCC has a blog

The Oregon Liquor Control Commission has started publishing an amusing blog. Many of the posts consists of the author explaining how, contrary to popular opinion, the OLCC is not actually a totally archaic government agency that taxes bartenders for the right to work and annoys everyone with their petty regulations. For example:

Did you know that you can special order virtually any item that is not normally carried in the OLCC’s product line? As long as it is available from a source in the U.S., we can probably get it.

Oh, that’s nice. How do I place an order?

You can go to any liquor store to place your special order. The store will write up your request, and submit it to the OLCC for processing. Your order is then placed to the distillery. The distiller will ship your order to OLCC’s warehouse, where it will be transferred to the liquor store. The liquor store will notify you when your items arrive. Special orders generally take about six to eight weeks.

Six to eight weeks? Wow, that’s really fast! OK, anything else I should know?

One thing to note – you must buy this item by the case. This is necessary since suppliers will not ship in less than whole case quantities.

Fantastic! When I’m trying out new, obscure liquors, I need at least a dozen bottles to give them a fair assessment.

(As a point of contrast, my DC liquor store would deliver special orders in less than two weeks, set a bottle aside for me, and put the rest of the case on sale to the public. Even direct mail shipments from Europe arrive in just a few days.)

[Via Things About Portland that Suck, of which the OLCC is definitely one.]


Oregon hates its bar industry

Portland is said to have the highest number of breweries per capita in the United States. Oregon also has one of the country’s lowest beer tax rates. Coincidence?

We may soon find out. A bill in the legislature would raise the tax on beer from $2.60 per barrel to nearly $50. According to Tax Foundation data, that would give Oregon by far the highest beer tax in the nation. The money will be used largely to fund drug prevention and recovery programs. It’s a shame we can’t legalize drugs and tax them directly, but why should beer drinkers bear the cost?

Even if you think higher taxes on alcohol are justified on Pigovian grounds, this is a horrible year to impose them. Oregon has one of the nation’s highest unemployment rates right now. This bill would hurt one of the state’s few thriving industries while discouraging consumption at a time when governments are struggling to raise it.

If the state is desperate for money, there’s a very simple way to obtain it and encourage people to spend more: repeal the smoking ban that went into effect last month. Video poker and lottery sales are down $3 million per week compared to January 2008. The ban isn’t the only cause, obviously, but it’s likely a significant one.

Unfortunately, Oregon isn’t the only state using budget woes as an excuse for picking imbibers’ pockets. Nick Gillespie notes that Kentucky is raising taxes too. Expect to see more of this as the year goes on.

[Thanks to Jan and Patrick for bringing this to my attention.]


Subsidy skepticism

I live in the “Rose Quarter” neighborhood of Portland. The name sounds enticing, but what it really means is that I’m just a few blocks away from the Rose Garden Arena, where the Trail Blazers play basketball. I’m also two blocks from the Oregon Convention Center and within the fareless line of city buses and trains. With all that government subsidy, my neighborhood must be awesome, right?

Well, let’s see. The first-level retail in my own building is mostly empty despite the fact that it’s on one of the city’s busiest roads. Aside from real estate offices, the only business open there is a Subway sandwich shop. I have one Starbucks a block to the south of me, another a block to the north, and a third a couple blocks to the east. For food within walking distance I have a variety of ethnic restaurants. Perhaps you’ve heard of them: Taco Bell, Chipotle, and Muchas Gracias. I have lots of burger options too: Burgerville, Wendy’s, McDonald’s, Burger King, and Red Robin. There’s one semi-popular bar nearby that I think only gets full after Blazer games. I haven’t been in, but I’m pretty sure it sucks.

All of which is to say that I’m a bit skeptical that adding a government-owned minor league baseball stadium to my neighborhood is going to rescue it:

The Rose Quarter is now in the running for a new minor league baseball stadium as the city and the Trail Blazers explore how to boost business in the underperforming eastside entertainment zone.

The area has struggled to attract people to restaurants and shops on nights when the Rose Garden doesn’t have a basketball game or concert.

The Blazers wouldn’t own the baseball stadium; the city of Portland would. But a Triple A ballpark might complement other development that the Blazers have planned to bring more people to the quarter sandwiched between the Willamette River and Interstate 5.

Getting the city to pay for a new stadium that would drive more customers to the Blazers-owned developments would no doubt be good for the Blazers. I very much doubt it would be good for the city’s taxpayers or the Quarter’s residents.

Speaking of residents, we could use more of them. My building — which is very nice — is one of very few substantial residential buildings in the neighborhood (unless you count the neighboring high-rise retirement home, but I don’t think its occupants are big spenders). If the city is serious about rejuvenating the area, I suspect that increasing the residential options to make it more conducive to mixed use would likely do far more for it and enable more than lousy chain restaurants* to thrive there.

It’s worth looking back at the Convention Center as a lesson here. It’s a textbook example of city government wasting taxpayer money on a massive project that gets nowhere close to meeting its objectives. From a 2005 Forbes article:

Portland’s story is particularly telling. Prior to the 1998 city election Portland’s visitors association estimated the center had missed out on $17 million in convention business over six months because the center was too small. The regional tricounty government proposed an $82 million general obligation bond to pay for the expansion, but taxpayers overwhelmingly nixed it. So Multnomah County floated a separate bond backed by higher taxes on hotel rooms and car rentals, allowing the expansion to proceed. In the meantime new, rival centers were going up all along the West Coast.

The expansion was completed in 2003, with eco-friendly touches like an outdoor “rain garden.” City fathers boasted of landing the 2005 National Square Dance Convention and its 10,000 high-steppers.

The euphoria was short-lived. Apart from big auto and gardening shows, last year’s schedule was packed with what the industry dubs “smerfs,” which stands for social, military, educational, religious and fraternal groups. These visitors typically pack four travelers in a hotel room and don’t have corporate credit cards to blow on expensive meals.

By the end of 2004 the center’s finances were in bad shape. To get 34 decent-size shows, the center had to indirectly waive rental fees for the organizers of 10 of them. The building would have lost $15,000 a day if not for $6 million in tax subsidies. Hotels are 60% occupied, as fewer than 30% of convention-goers last year came from outside Portland.

And now the city wants to fund another grand venture with other people’s money next door. What could go wrong?

[Stadium link via the Oregon Economics Blog.]

*No disrespect to Burgerville and Chipotle. You guys are all right. I’d just like a little local flavor too, you know?


A perfect Oregon day

The rain in Portland can be a bit much today sometimes, but every once in a while we get a perfect winter day with cool weather, mist, and Sun. Today was one of those days, so wine blogger A.A., a few friends, and I ventured out west to sip pinot noir and take in the beautiful scenery:


(There’s actually a second rainbow there, but it’s hard to see in the iPhone photo.)

There are enough wineries to the southwest of Portland that one can drive out without a particular destination in mind. We visited three today, Torri Mor standing out as my favorite for both the setting and the wine. A.A. has a longer write-up here.


Oregon anti-smoker bigotry

One of the latest trends in the anti-smoking movement is campus-wide smoking bans that forbid smoking even out of doors and away from buildings. The University of Oregon may soon be jumping on that bandwagon, as an official task force of busybodies has recommended that the administration follow suit. Smokers among UO’s more than 20,000 students will be forced off campus to smoke, even at night; or perhaps they’ll smoke illicitly and litter their butts on the ground due to the lack of ashtrays.

The task force’s report is long and ponderous [pdf]. Thankfully, CJ Ciaramella at the Oregon Commentator has sifted through it for us. CJ spotted this gem from one of the campus discussion forums:

A staff member stated we needed to look past the glamorous side of smoking. The smell of smoke makes him ill. He made the comparison of secondhand smoke to someone who is HIV positive spiting [sic] on another individual and being charged with assault.

That’s a good metaphor actually, given that the odds of contracting HIV from saliva are about as minuscule as getting cancer from passing a smoker on the sidewalk. Was this masterful ironic commentary or blatant scientific ignorance? My money’s on the latter.


Descent into farce continued…

From The Oregonian:

When Oregon’s bars went smoke-free on New Year’s Day, nonsmokers breathed a sigh of relief — and so can smokers’ pets…

The consequences can be significant. A study conducted about seven years ago showed that cats living with smokers are two to four times more at risk for intestinal lymphoma, said Kristi Ellis, a veterinarian at the Oregon Humane Society. This type of cancer usually kills the cat within one year of diagnosis. The reason cats end up with cancer in their bowels, not their lungs, is that smoke particles settle on their fur and are ingested when cats groom, Ellis said.

This, however, is a worst-case scenario, and some say secondhand smoke hasn’t been proved to directly cause cancer in cats.

“It’s important to note that there’s no absolute direct link between smoking and cancer in pets,” said Nancy Zimmermann, director of medical support at Banfield, the Pet Hospital, one of the world’s largest veterinary practices.

Fortunately, I don’t think anyone is seriously proposing banning smoking in bars for the sake of pets at home. And this article, written by Jaques Von Lunen, is actually far more level-headed in its coverage of tobacco science than The New York Times or Scientific American have been lately. If only reporters could be this balanced when it comes to humans.


Ceci n’est pas une pipe

Pipe smoker's Manhattan

The nanny statists in Oregon have declared that smoking a pipe is henceforth illegal in the few cigar bars that survived the smoking ban intact. Now what am I going to do with all my pipe tobacco? Work it into a drink, of course! It’s not illegal if it’s not fire.

This month’s Mixology Monday theme is “new horizons,” in which A Mixed Dram encourages us to try a technique or ingredient we’ve never used before. I’d actually planned on posting something other than what I’m posting now, but that particular experiment is still in the works. Instead I tried my hand this weekend at flavoring liquor with smoke.

My friend David Barzelay suggested the method: put wood, leaves, or tobacco in a large pot, set them smoking, insert liquor in an elevated, smaller pan, and then place a lid on the whole thing for half an hour. I decided to try this with pipe tobacco and sweet vermouth with the goal being a sort of smokers’ Manhattan. (Why not smoke the bourbon? Because bourbon costs three times as much as the vermouth and I didn’t want to ruin it. I can already see Caleb cringing at the thought of molesting his favorite spirit that way.)

Unfortunately I was a little short on the necessary equipment. My large pot with lid was in the service of soup at the time, so I had to use a smaller one. And not having a pan small enough to fit in that pot I had to instead use a vegetable steamer with a steel bowl laid inside it. I didn’t actually own a vegetable steamer so I had to buy one. That I finally bought a vegetable steamer not for cooking vegetables but for adding tobacco to liquor tells you everything you need to know about my personal habits. Take out that life insurance policy on me now, folks.

The process was pretty straightforward. I added a layer of aluminum foil to the pot to protect it from the tobacco (probably unnecessary) and set the stove to high heat until the leaves started smoking. Then I turned down the heat and dropped in the steamer and bowl with 6 ounces of vermouth. I put on the lid and after a few minutes turned the heat off entirely and let it rest for 30 minutes. The first run didn’t impart quite enough flavor, so I ended up repeating this with one more 10 minute smoking period.

This worked out decently well in a Manhattan, with the flavor of the tobacco coming through in a balanced cocktail. It also came with a thicker mouthfeel and slightly sour aftertaste. I’m not sure if that’s the result of tar from the tobacco or heat damage to the vermouth. I’d have to experiment with a larger pan that dissipates heat better or with cold smoking to know for sure. In any case, adding a bit of unaltered vermouth fixed things up. So now when the Oregon smoking cops come around, I can mix up a Ceci n’est pas une Pipe to evade detection:

2 oz bourbon (Bulleit)
.75 oz smoked sweet vermouth
.25 oz sweet vermouth (Noilly Prat)
2 dashes Fee Brothers’ old fashioned bitters

If I keep experimenting with this I want to use cold smoking, either with a device like Lance has at 50 Plates or this smoking gun that Barzelay pointed out to me. For now, though, I’m glad to have a new technique at my disposal, even if I don’t keep using it exactly in this manner. Thanks to A Mixed Dram for hosting this month and to David for spurring on a new idea.


Ode to the Horse Brass

horsebrass 021

I have an article at Doublethink today about the last days of smoking at the legendary Horse Brass Pub, one of the first places I felt at home when moving to Portland a few months ago. Debates over smoking bans tend to focus on the impacts on business, public health, and property rights. The culture that’s wiped out when smoking is banned gets much less attention. In this piece I try to convey what that culture means to those of us who love it.

Incidentally, I finally got to meet Don Younger, the pub’s owner, a few days after I submitted this. He’s not at all worried that his bar won’t survive the ban. The beer, the atmosphere, and the food are all too good for that to happen (and the Scotch eggs, incidentally, are probably far more dangerous to people’s hearts than all the cigarette smoke in Oregon — but totally worth it). When we ban opponents talk about the rights of business owners, we’re not just talking about them making money; as Don says, he didn’t get into the tavern business to get rich. We’re talking about not having a community that they’ve nurtured for more than 30 years wiped out at the whim of some busybodies in the state legislature.


Won’t someone think of the addicts?

Elizabeth Hovde’s column in the Oregonian this weekend examined the new statewide smoking ban and said, hey, aren’t smokers people too?

It feels good to pass laws that protect people’s health. But retaining the rights of private property owners and the social lives of a minority group feels pretty good, too. It’s unfortunate state lawmakers didn’t choose to do both. They could have…

Several business owners in Washington have tried, with no success, to get around their state’s smoking ban by creating members-only type clubs for smokers. Such areas would not have employees working in the area and would use a different ventilation system than the rest of the business. But the 2005 law is clear: If the business has employees, no smoke is allowed on the premises.

Washington and Oregon should revise their laws to accommodate those seeking the loopholes. The loopholes make sense. If there is a way to protect workers without denying a property owner the right to allow smoking on his or her premises, the state should be interested in making that happen.

Granted, there won’t be a huge outcry to help smokers and businesses friendly to smokers breathe more easily under the new ban. Smokers’ liberties have been numbered for some time.

With a 17 percent adult smoking rate in Oregon, according to 2007 statistics from the Kaiser Family Foundation, smokers’ shot at fighting laws that curtail smoking have been thinner than a Virginia Slim. But Oregonians value minority groups and should be interested in a better solution than creating social shut-ins and threatening the profit of some businesses…

Even though Oregon’s law is better than some others, it could have been better. It could have been a little “weird,” the way many Oregonians say they like things to be around here. It could have ensured that when everyone in a given, independently ventilated, private location is there voluntarily and off the clock, smoking is permitted. It could have protected the health of workers and us nonsmokers, while accommodating smokers and business owners. How odd would that have been?

I have a few quibbles with the article. For one, it paints all smokers as addicts; some people legitimately enjoy tobacco and can do so in moderation. I think there are better ways to reduce the number of smoking businesses than only allowing private clubs. And finally, it cites the Pueblo smoking ban study, a shoddy piece of work that no one should take seriously. But that aside, it’s great to see people taking a step back and realizing that no matter how much they dislike smoking, the comprehensive bans that have become en vogue go too far. Kudos to Elizabeth for writing this and the Oregonian for running it. We need more of this.


Bans across the pond

With several smoking bans just going into effect in the US and debates over proposed bans going on throughout the country, it’s worth revisiting the question of how they impact businesses. (You didn’t really think I was finished with ban posts for the week, did you?) The US has fared decently well thanks to growth in the hospitality industry obscuring the losses in bars that have suffered; whether that will continue in the down economy remains to be seen. The Financial Times‘ Matthew Engel notes that pubs have been hit much harder in the UK and Ireland:

In Britain, where smoking in enclosed public places became totally illegal in 2007, beer sales are down by 10 per cent; analysts attribute half of that to the smoking law. Pubs are now closing at a record rate of 36 a week.

The publicans I talk to (and they have plenty of time to chat these days) have many complaints but the loss of the smokers is top of their list. Some are on the pavement, but most stay at home. Pool tables stand empty; darts leagues wither.

This may not be so noticeable in the cities. The pubs that are closing are mainly small and often rural, precisely the places that are crucial to their communities and that tourist boards witter on about. Big city drinking barns survive; gastropubs may thrive. The inns of Olde England face extinction, killed by the well-meaning.

My own village local is thought likely to go under this year. It is hard to imagine, under current conditions, that more than a handful of traditional pubs – as opposed to thinly disguised restaurants – will be left in the English countryside 10 years hence…

I hardly ever smoked in pubs myself. Nor does anyone else now. They do not drink in them either. Brilliant.

I worry that the same will happen in Oregon, Iowa, Illinois, and other states with far-reaching bans. The urban bars will likely weather the change. The smaller rural and neighborhood bars I’m not so sure of.

As noted here before, Portland’s restaurants are in for a tough season. The end of 2008 was pretty terrible:

Observers can’t remember a worse year for Portland restaurants. In the first two months of 2008, seven restaurants closed, four as part of the implosion of the overextended N.W. Hayden Enterprises. The year ends with the fall of Lucier — the $4 million South Waterfront showcase — ringing in our ears. In between, more than 20 Portland restaurants shut their doors…

“I’ve heard some people say their business has dropped by as much as 40 percent in the last month or so,” says Bill Perry of the Oregon Restaurant Association. “Things weren’t too bad until October — sales were off just 4 percent or so over the year — but then, two or three weeks before the election, things just froze. I’ve never seen anything like this; if we want to avoid a big rut in January, people are going to have to begin spending again.”

Perry says January’s increase in the minimum wage from $7.95 to $8.40 per hour will be another blow, especially in tough times, when raising menu prices could further empty dining rooms. “They really won’t have much choice,” he says, “but to let people go or cut their hours.” […]

Effects ripple through the community. Oregon lost 1,900 restaurant jobs in September and October, and suppliers are left with unpaid bills and dwindling orders.

[Links via Andrew Stuttaford and the excellent Oregon Economics blog, recently recommended by Maureen Ogle.]


The last smoker

This is a fantastic photo: regulars at the Horse Brass Pub recreate “The Last Supper” with long-haired publican Don Younger filling in for Jesus. There’s no Judas here, just a gathering of loyal friends. Judas would be the Oregonians not pictured because they wouldn’t enter the pub while people smoked there, selling out one of their city’s legendary bar owners so they can drink Don’s beer under their own rules.

[Photo by Aaron Barnard, Vanished Twin Photography, via Willamette Week.]


Saying hello to my new Oregon neighbors

I’m in the Oregonian today, calling BS on the idea that our upcoming statewide smoking ban is motivated by an interest in saving workers’ lives. If the response is anything like that to my previous anti-ban column, there’s a lot of hate mail and nasty comments headed this way and to the Oregonian website. That’s fine, I’m happy to receive criticism. But before you hit send, make sure you’re not saying what we’ve all heard many times before:

Secondhand tobacco smoke is dangerous! — I agree. Chronic, extended exposure to environmental tobacco smoke has been shown to correlate with moderately greater health risks. But if you think the guy smoking next to you in a restaurant is shaving years off your life, you’re going way beyond what’s scientifically plausible.

Smoking shouldn’t be allowed in public buildings! — I agree. Courthouses, public hospitals, police stations, and similar places could all justifiably ban smoking. You could even make a case for banning smoking on common carriers like railroads and buses. But a privately owned bar? That’s a competitive business, not a public building. If you don’t like the atmosphere you don’t have to go.

Smoking bans are just like any other workplace safety regulation! — Most safety regulations don’t ban jobs entirely, as we’re now banning working in a smoke-friendly bar. Nor do we need to protect bar workers from hidden risks; if anything, the dangers of secondhand smoke are exaggerated. Given the high rates of turnover in the hospitality industry, there’s no reason employees can’t decide for themselves whether to keep working in smoke-filled rooms.

Smokers can just step outside — In the Oregon winter? Cigarette smokers, maybe. Pipe and cigar smokers? Not my idea of high fun. For many of us, bartenders included, the ban will kill a bar culture we know and love. Besides, you’re just going to ban it outside next (see Boston, San Luis Obispo, Calabasas, Belmont, etc.).

I shouldn’t have to suffer smokers when I go out! — Then go to places that don’t allow smoking. Or, as I mentioned in the column, pass legislation that’s less restrictive than the ban but that would still encourage businesses to go smokefree. Shouldn’t smokers have places to go too?

But the one place I really want to go allows smoking! — Yeah, that sucks. Try complaining to the management. If enough people say something they might change their policy. Or maybe they won’t. Remember, the world doesn’t revolve around you. (Unless you’re William Shatner, in which case the world does revolve around you, and can I have your autograph?)

Smoking has made you bald! — Uh, no. That’s just some unfortunate photo cropping on the Oregonian website. My mane’s still doing pretty well, thank you.

Got something to add that’s not on the list? Now you can hit send.


An Oregon smoking ban prediction

I’m supposed to be in Houston right now. Yesterday my bags were packed and, despite being skeptical that my plane home would depart on time, I trudged my luggage through the freshly fallen snow to the train that would take me to the airport. The train wasn’t running. I checked my phone and now neither was my flight. Thirty minutes on hold with Southwest booked me a new ticket on the 24th and three more days in a paralyzed city.

This is all mildly inconvenient for me, but it’s hell for people in the service industry. December is a vital month for them. Because of the record snowfall — the highest for a Portland December since 1968 — my bartender friends are being told not to come into work. Many places aren’t opening at all. Companies are canceling their Christmas party reservations, taking with them all the revenue they’d promised. Combine this with the national recession and 2008 is turning out to be a glum year for area bars and restaurants.

What does this have to do with smoking bans? Oregon’s goes into effect on January 1. By January 2010, the economic uncertainty we’re facing now will hopefully have subsided. And unless it’s another freak year for weather, December will bring its usual boost to Oregon restaurants. If that happens, smoking ban proponents will be able to cite statistics showing that bar and restaurant business went up after the smoking ban, “proving” that they were right and we who oppose the ban had nothing to worry about.

A similar dynamic played out in New York City in March, 2004, a year after the beginning of its smoking ban. The city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene issued a report showing that the bar and restaurant business had grown in the year following the ban. Critics countered that the study misleadingly conflated bars and restaurants and neglected to account for the economic recovery following the 9/11 attacks.

Who’s right? I don’t know and I don’t care. As I’ve said before, this is a stupid argument. The financial objections to smoking bans aren’t based on how they affect net hospitality industry revenues, but on how they impact individual smoking-oriented businesses. Generalized statistics obscure the impact on bars that can’t get an exemption, lose customers, and justifiably feel like their rights are being trampled upon. It’s cold comfort to tell them to suck it up because, well, at least their competitors are making money.

If 2009 is a decent year for Oregon’s bars and restaurants, I predict that this is the kind of claim we’re going to hear from local ban supporters. I’d like to go on the record now to point out that such crude analysis should be seen for the irrelevant BS it truly is.

Pipe down!
Taking the LEED on smoking bans


Pipe down!

As you all know, Oregon is welcoming me to the state with a strict new smoking ban that goes into effect on January 1. As smoking bans go it’s not the worst in the US, in that it at least makes exceptions for cigar bars and retail shops. The income requirement from cigar sales is fairly reasonable too: at just $5,000 per year, smoke-friendly cigar bars should be able to achieve it without too much trouble.

The rules for cigar bars have a curious restriction though:

To qualify as a cigar bar, a business must… Prohibit the smoking of all tobacco products other than cigars

Presumably this means that hookahs and pipes are literally out the window (and at least 10 feet away from it). This is absurd. Pipe and cigar smokers join together in the brotherhood of the leaf. Where one is welcome, so is the other. Yet come January 1, enjoying a pipe in a smokers’ bar will be illegal.

I don’t think the intent of the legislature was to ban pipe smoking. It’s such a rare activity these days that they probably just didn’t consider it. My guess is that their true goal is to discriminate against cigarette smokers. They want to make it absolutely impossible for them to find places where they can light up. And further, by denying cigar bar owners the right to serve them they make it even harder for cigar bar owners to build a customer base and stay in business.

All of which shows yet again that the motives for these smoking bans has very little to do with protecting employees and the public from secondhand smoke and everything to do with stamping out a lifestyle deemed unworthy by our nannying rulers.

[Hat tip to commenter Ben at Stogie Guys.]

Not a war on smokers?
Please do smoke, if you like