Living it up like smoke-free California

To view the list of smoke-free restaurants, go to
In her years spent waitressing, Carol Wilson said she suffered plenty from second-hand smoke. Back in the early 1990s, she and other waitresses at the San Francisco restaurant where she worked sold cigars to patrons. They were required to clip and light the cigars for customers. She also watched unfiltered smoke—"That’s very toxic stuff!"—rising up through the air from the tips of cigarettes smoldering in ashtrays.

“That was 1993,” she said. “By 1999, the city’s restaurants were all smoke-free.”

Diners—and voters—had demanded smoke-free establishments from restaurants to bars to dance clubs. What happened for the Hotel California could happen—should happen—here in northern Nevada, Wilson said.

“[San Francisco business leaders] were worried about it because the city relies on tourism dollars,” Wilson said. “They feared that they would lose conventions. But business increased as non-smokers were happy to go out more often. [A non-smoking environment] makes for a very pleasant dining experience.”

Wilson is now the owner of the Fourth Street Bistro, where members of the Washoe County Tobacco Prevention Coalition gathered last week to ring the mission bell for a new smoke-free restaurant campaign. The Fourth Street Bistro is one of about 180 smoke-free area restaurants listed at a new Web site, These restaurants can display posters and Clean Cuisine stickers.

Participation is, of course, voluntary for restaurants. For now. Washoe County voters supported measures to curb public smoking, though, so legislation could be in the works soon to create more safe places for nonsmokers.

Another facet of the campaign puts a simple tool into the hands of non-smokers who’d like to nudge or even coerce more restaurants into the program. The coalition offers sheets of small stickers that say: “Secondhand Smoke Kills. Please become a 100 percent smoke-free restaurant. Find out how: (775) 770-3744.” The stickers are just the right size to stick on the bottom of your tab.

The complaint from some: “Ah, just another mile along the dark desert highway.”

Well, yeah. But is that so bad? During a recent trip to California, I sat in a bar watching patrons rove in, sit down, go out, light up outside, come back in, sit back down. Delightfully anti-sedentary. Good for everyone. If you enjoy secondhand smoke, you can go outside, stand near a smoker and breathe deeply. The cool wind in your hair won’t leave you smelling like stale Camels.

Up ahead in the distance, you can expect to see a shimmering onslaught of Clean Cuisine advertising on TV, radio and in the paper. Your head will grow heavy when you consider that more than 53,000 nonsmokers die annually in the United States as a result of lung cancer or cardiovascular disease related to secondhand smoke.

When Wilson first opened her Fourth Street Bistro, she didn’t even consider allowing patrons to smoke.

“I never gave it a thought,” she said. “People said, ‘This is Nevada. People smoke in Nevada.’ But I don’t smoke. Most of my friends don’t smoke.”

At the Bistro, smoking isn’t even allowed outside on the deck.

"It’s been great," Wilson said. "It’s been wonderful. People applaud us. We just don’t like cigarettes."