The best laid plans go up in smoke

A woman lit up a cigarette at the bar. Others were smoking and playing pool. A cook working the back grill at the Pub-n-Sub on Ralston called out a name. She placed an orange basket containing a grilled chicken sandwich on the counter.

“What’s going to happen with the smoking ban?” I wondered out loud. It was Dec. 7, the eve of the day when Nevada’s own Indoor Clean Air Act was supposed to go into effect. I stood at the back of the off-campus bar, waiting to pay for a pizza. Honestly, I hadn’t given the implications of Question 5, passed by voters in November, much thought.

“We’ll enforce it,” the girl behind the counter said. “We won’t have much choice.”

As it turned out, bars had a bit of a reprieve when Las Vegas business owners challenged the constitutionality of the law this month.

So here we go again. Voters who approved a public smoking ban are accused of trying to Californicate our fair laissez-faire state. More government nannying, that’s what the libertarian types have called a public smoking ban.

OK, so we voters wanted a few smoke-free public places. Less second-hand smoke is good for everyone.

The problem with Question 5 is that some of us didn’t know what the hell we were voting for. The wording of the two smoking referendums was baffling—and the pro-versus-con arguments posted online only increased the confusion. Days before Election 2006, medical students marched across campus in white lab coats shouting, “No on 4, Yes on 5.” The image stuck in my mind—and that’s how I voted.

I hadn’t considered exactly what the rules for the smoking ban might be. You can smoke in a bar with, what, more than 15 slot machines—or one that doesn’t serve peanuts with its beer? Huh. What the heck is left? The gaming area at Harrah’s—but not its Sapphire Lounge?

The issue puts me in a conundrum.

I like the idea of smoke-free places. Should we the people be able to decide where people can and can’t engage in a life-threatening activity? We accept government nannying all the time—speed limits and the banning of obscenities on radio and television come to mind. We ban some drugs—marijuana and cocaine—and not others—alcohol and caffeine.

I also like the idea of personal liberty coupled with responsibility. That’s why teens should be taught how to protect themselves from unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. That’s why Nevadans shouldn’t be jailed for the possession of marijuana. And it’s why small business owners shouldn’t have to bear the brunt of a smoking ban that doesn’t impact large casino corporations.

So I don’t know how I feel about this new law. As the rules get (hopefully) clarified by the courts perhaps this week, I expect someone will concoct a list of bars where folks can drink and smoke. I hope my favorites remain on the list—because I drink with a few people who like to smoke.

The day that the ban was supposed to go into effect, a friend and I decided to do a field study at the Flowing Tide in northwest Reno. Great bar. Yummy snacks. Posted on the door was a sign. Pending a judge’s decision, the smoking ban would not be enforced at the bar.

My friend considered this a plus—that and the presence of glass butt-holders on the tables.

“If there are ashtrays, you can smoke,” she said, lighting up a Marlboro Light 100. She smoked half the extra-long cigarette while sipping a glass of Chardonnay. Then she put it out and lit a new one.

She doesn’t like to taste the heat.