The DC Council is on the brink of passing a ban on smoking in public places, including bars and restaurants. I’ve long been a fan of this movement, and a few days back I posted the following as a comment at DCist on a thread about the upcoming Council vote, asking whether readers for pro- or anti-ban.
Frankly, I can’t wait for the smoking ban to begin! One of the best things to happen to NYC, to me, was the indoor clean air act. It makes going out to restaurants and bars much more enjoyable: I don’t breathe in the smoke (and having grown up with two smokers, I’m glad to stay far away from the stuff now), my clothes don’t smell appalling, I don’t have a huge headache from the smoke (perhaps from drinking too much, but that’s different), and the meal is enjoyable (e.g. I can taste all the flavors in the food and drink).
And to those naysayers who predict that “bars close, jobs [will be] lost, tax revenues disappear, hospitality & nightlife [will be] harmed, and freedom of choice is eliminated,” they obviously haven’t studied the metro areas where indoor clean air acts have been enacted. You can look at what may be the closest peer city (or perhaps the city that DC is most jealous of) to DC: New York City.
Yes, some restaurants and bars in NYC closed, but they were already on the way to failure, anyway, if a smoking ban put them out of business. And the number of businesses that actually did close was nothing over the usual failure rate for restaurants and bars (which are two of the most risky business endeavors, with a high likelihood for failure). In their place, new dining and drinking establishments opened, and the cycle continued. But it was almost certainly not the smoking ban that did the majority of them in – it’s just a fickle industry.
And sure, some diners were lost. But many more others were drawn into restaurants that they previously avoided due to smoke. For example, I know of many other DCists (besides myself) who try to dine and drink only at establishments that are smoke-free.
Sure, some argue that “freedom of choice” is harmed. Perhaps, but freedom of choice is a double-edged sword. You can’t please everybody, but I suspect that smokers can co-exist more peacefully and with less complaints in a land of smoke-free restaurants and bars than can the non-smokers in a flip-turned situation. Smoking is a harmful addiction – something I won’t go into, as that’s a completely different kettle of fish. Needless to say, removing smoking from restaurants is a positive step in this regard.
Again, looking at NYC: was any of its nightlife seriously harmed by the clean air act? Do you see fewer options for clubs? Less live music? Fewer people watching football, baseball, hockey, soccer, basketball or horse races in bars? Have SoHo, the Village, TriBeCa or Hell’s Kitchen been rendered into wastelands since smoking was banned?
I didn’t see any hands go up.
And I suspect that the same will happen here: nothing will change, other than the ability to smoke in restaurants and bars. 18th Street will still bustle on the weekends. Georgetown will still teem with collegiates and yuppies doing bar crawls. U Street and Mt. Pleasant will still be as alive and vibrant than ever.
There just won’t be any smoke obscuring the view (or flavors) inside.
UPDATE: The ban passed with an 11-1 margin. One member of the Council wasn’t present for the vote, and the lone opponent was Carol Schwartz (R-At Large).