to Smoke? Go to Hamburg
By JOE JACKSON
The New York Times
May 16, 2003
France -- I never thought I'd say this, but I'm thinking of leaving
New York for a city that's free and tolerant and treats me like an
adult. Berlin, maybe, or Barcelona, or even London, the city I left
nearly 20 years ago.
came to live in New York to be a musician and a bohemian, but the
last time my band played in the city, in April, there were no fewer
than five "No Smoking" signs in our dressing room. Two
weeks later in Hamburg, Germany, our dressing room had five ashtrays.
You can guess where we felt more welcome.
York used to have an edge -- that sense that something thrilling
can happen at any moment and that anyone, not just rich people and
tourists, can be a part of it. Now even the bohemians are turning
sanctimonious. Singers I know, who got through 20 years of smoky
gigs, have become overnight converts to the total smoking ban in
New York (though they don't complain about the smoke when they're
in Europe). Can't we just be grown up? Besides, a bit of haze in
the air makes the lights look better.
smoking ban is just one part of the strangulation of New York's night
life -- a crackdown on everything from topless bars to noise -- which
began under Rudolph Giuliani and has continued under Mayor Michael
Bloomberg. Many of us preferred the old X-rated Times Square to the
new "Disneyfied" version. Besides, shouldn't a great city
be able to tolerate a red-light district?
and bars can't allow their patrons to dance unless they have an expensive,
hard-to-obtain cabaret license; clubs are closed if even one customer
is found using drugs; and rich condominium owners who move into neighborhoods
made fashionable by trendy clubs go to court to complain about the
the smoking ban is the last straw, the thing that has me packing
my bags in utter disgust. And the new state law that is going into
effect in July is even more draconian. What exactly is the problem
with separate, enclosed, ventilated smoking areas?
like a couple of cigarettes or a cigar with a drink, and like many
other people, I only smoke in bars or nightclubs. Now I can't go
to any of my old haunts. Bartenders who were friends have turned
into cops, forcing me outside to shiver in the cold and curse under
my breath (the bar can also be fined if I make too much noise). I
go back inside to find my drink gone, along with my place at the
bar. It's no fun. Smokers are being demonized and victimized all
out of proportion.
over it," say the anti-smokers. "You're the minority." I
thought a great city was a place where all kinds of minorities could
thrive. "The smoking ban works in Los Angeles," they say.
But Los Angeles has a very different culture, not to mention more
space and a better climate for outdoor smoking. "Smoking kills," they
say. As an occasional smoker with otherwise healthy habits, I'll
take my chances. Health consciousness is important but so are pleasure
and freedom of choice.
for secondhand smoke, there is research that shows it's not nearly
as dangerous as some, like Mayor Bloomberg, would have us believe.
And common sense tells you that a bit of smoke now and again, just
when you're in a bar, isn't going to kill you -- especially if you're
in a separate nonsmoking section.
are ways to keep everyone happy. Make high-tech clean-air ventilation
units, which are used in many pubs in London, compulsory; they really
do suck out most of the smoke from the air. Have separate smoking
rooms. Have separate smoking establishments. Stop putting unreasonable
restrictions on smoking outdoors; if traffic fumes, garbage trucks,
panhandlers and who knows what else can't spoil a tough New Yorker's
al fresco supper, surely we can handle a bit of cigarette smoke.
employees who smoke, or are prepared to sign some sort of waiver,
work the smoking venues. Have smoke-free serving areas and let patrons
carry their own drinks into smoking areas. Keep the ban but allow
people to apply for exemptions or smoking licenses. Limit the number
of licenses so that plenty of places remain smoke free.
how reasonable (or desperate) we smokers are? We just want somewhere
to enjoy a legal product in a sociable environment. This can be resolved
in a spirit of tolerance, which is increasingly rare in this increasingly
joyless city. Bar and club operators should unite and lobby for fairer
laws. Meanwhile, London is looking pretty good. Or Paris, or Moscow.
. . .