Jewish World Review July 9, 2004 / 20 Tamuz, 5764
On the Smoking Ban and Irish Pubs
When I read about Fibber Magee's Irish pub, I raised my pint high and toasted civil disobedience.
Fibber Magee's is located in Ireland, the world's first country to ban smoking in all workplaces, including pubs. Since the ban went into effect last March, Fibber Magee's suffered a 60 percent drop in business, and with good reason.
One of the great pastimes in Ireland is stopping by the pub for a pint and a smoke. In between sips and puffs, you're likely to partake in entertaining conversation, have a hearty laugh, and, after a few hours, head home relaxed and primed for a good night's sleep.
But no more. The battle between smokers and non-smokers that has been raging across America has visited Irish shores, and the smokers have lost. That's why the fellows who own Fibber Magee's decided to fight back. They not only refused to ban smoking, they encouraged it.
I wish more American pub owners were as feisty. In America, smoking in pubs has been banned in many local communities and a handful of states. You can't smoke in a pub in the entire state of California. In New York City, land of the nicotine fix, you have to go out into the rain to fire up. And another battle is raging here in Washington, D.C.
A group called SmokeFreeDC has pushed a ballot measure called Initiative 66 that would prohibit smoking in all indoor D.C. workplaces and public places (pubs!), require no-smoking signs to be posted, and would establish hefty fines for violators.
That gave birth to a smoker's-rights group called BanTheBan.org. This group demands the right to fire up a cigarette or a stogie at their favorite watering hole any time they please. They have succeeded, so far, in getting a judge to deny the anti-smoking measure.
The SmokeFreeDC people say nuts to that. They argue that secondhand smoke is a carcinogen that causes a host of health problems. They cite studies to support their claim. And they are backed by big money anti-everything groups that won't quit until no one can drink or smoke in America.
But the BanTheBan people argue that the smoking-ban argument is built upon questionable science; they point to a recent report in the British Medical Journal that concludes that the effects of secondhand smoke are wildly overstated. There is a risk of health problems, the Journal says, but the risk is slight at best.
I have to admit, the whole issue puzzles me.
If secondhand smoke DOES harm nonsmokers, shouldn't it be banned? Smoking is an awful habit. It causes a host of health problems, it's stinky and addictive, and we'd all be better off if everyone quit.
But then there is debate about how harmful second hand smoke really is. And doesn't technology offer a win-win solution anyhow? High-tech air cleaners are now available that can suck the carcinogens out of the air in seconds; even with patrons smoking all over the pub, the air is cleaner inside than outside. In fact, two New York legislators are proposing a bill that would allow smoking in pubs that install such devices.
All I know for sure is that there is nothing like a cigarette or a stogie at the pub after a long, hard day. A little cognac, a deep long drag, and the conversation of some interesting folks goes a long way towards promoting health and happiness.
That's why I applaud the owners of Fibber Magee's. They know life is hard and that life's little pleasures offer relief. They know that if the anti-everything zealots win, the world will become a cold and sterile place. They fought the zealots for four valiant days before finally closing the pub under threats of massive fines. But they still deserve a toast:
Here's to the Irish and here's to their beer. Here's to smoke-filled pubs every year. You fought them hard, Paddies, for a lot is at stake. I wish more folks would blow smoke in their face.
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© 2004 Tom Purcell