Nevadans have spoken on smoking, and bar owners may pay a price

Winter's overcoat of darkness now wraps around Nevada. Winds are exhaling hard, pushing clouds like so many oversize smoke pillows through mountain peaks and in between the passes, sometimes finding rest in the cavities of its valleys. But these winds are hot winds. And the clouds smoke. Cigarette smoke? No. It's the smoke bulleting through the ears of smokers and restaurant and bar owners over the new smoking abolition laws passed by the state.

Want to turn that smoke to fire? Walk into a bar, any bar that serves food, and say out loud, "Man, isn't it great to be able to breathe smokeless air?!" As your remains are scraped up from the floor, there's a good chance that forensics may even find your flounder-thin body poundings covered with cigarette burns.

If I owned a bar and grill or a casino, I'd be a teensy-weensy upset too. If I were a smoker, I'd also be a tiny bit burned. I'm more empathetic with restaurant and casino owners, though. I used to smoke when in my late 20s and early 30s; two and one-half packs of Salem Menthols for three years or so. It took me four tries to stop once I realized that the bingo-ball blobs of rolled-up rubber cement that I was coughing up in the shower each morning were the catapult attack weaponry of my lungs spitting back at me in choke-hold rebellion. But I still haven't minded others smoking around me in a bar. But who really wants someone blowing smoke all over your food? No one I can think of. Then again, it is the choice of that person to be in a bar to begin with. After all, it is a bar!

At first I thought perhaps Nevadans who voted for the Clean Indoor Air Act instead of the Responsibly Protect Nevadans from Second-Hand Smoke Act was a result of voters not fully understanding the implications. In simple language, the Clean Air Act imposes a strict law forbidding smoking "... in any bars that serve meals, as well as in slot machine sections of grocery and convenience stores, video arcades, shopping malls, school grounds and day-care centers." In contrast, the Responsibly Protect Nevadans from Second-Hand Smoke Act merely handed down a restriction on smoking in bars and restaurants where children were allowed. Casinos would have fared well with that one.

In a scene from an old Marx Brothers film, "Night at the Opera," faux talent manager Chico Marx negotiates the hire of an opera tenor with faux New York Opera Company manager, Groucho Marx. Their proposed contract starts with, "The first part of the party of the first part, should be known in this contract as the party of the first part." And that was just the opening paragraph. Get the picture? If you do, then maybe the state should have hired you as an on-hand interpreter at the voting polls for the anti-smoking proposals.

Yet, on another side of this smokescreen, I have heard many waiters, waitresses, bartenders, and managers (!) confidentially say, "Thank God," in favor of the Clean Indoor Act. They just can't make their real feelings known to their bosses. So, maybe the voters really did know what they were doing after all.

As a health issue, I'm better off without the envelopment of smoke, and so is everybody else. But from a business perspective, I am somewhat compassionate. I understand considerably the concerns of the bar and restaurant owners whose businesses may be affected. Casino managers too. But if it is any consolation, I remember when smoking was allowed in office buildings. It seemed like everyone smoked. People in the office, people on airplanes, people on TV, people in the movies. I also remember when doctors would smoke while checking on patients. One of my doctors did when I was kid. He's dead now, but I remember him smoking while he tested me for glasses. I also remember that his office could have passed for the opium den of Fu Manchu, and he had an animal skull on his desk. It looked like a donkey's head found in a desert somewhere. Death's head foreshadowing? Anyway, the guy smoked before he got smoked out.

For those old enough to remember those days, we need to remember what we have forgotten, because time has the hypnotic power of erasure, and what is so often forgotten is how smokers reconditioned themselves to their smokeless environments over the years. Many quit smoking. Many had life quit on them faster because it was already far too late. People will find a way to cope. It is the basic instinct of the human animal. Ten years from now, 20 years from now, we'll be saying the same thing about how people were once allowed to smoke in bars, just as we now recall how it used to be when smoking was allowed in office buildings and planes.

• John DiMambro is publisher of the Nevada Appeal. Write to him at


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