Living Out Loud: : Thoughts from a Defensive Smoker

Sub: Enjoying it while it lasts

On most Friday afternoons, you'll find my friend and me over at Madonna's on Seventh Street downtown during their cocktail hour. The service is friendly, the jukebox is solid and the drinks are reasonably priced.

My friend and I smoke, and we can go there without feeling like second class citizens. It's one of the few places where we can truly be ourselves, but it might be coming to an end soon. Last Friday, we discussed the upcoming election and Issues 4 and 5 over a couple of drinks.

Smoking at Madonna's or any other bar in the city will be no more if Issue 5 passes on Nov. 7. If the SmokeFreeOhio people get their way, this new law would prohibit smoking in all public places and places of employment.

Issue 5 and SmokeFreeOhio is a campaign sponsored by the American Cancer Society, whose heaart is certainly in the right place. I'm sure they're well-intended people there, so forgive me for asking a few questions and being more than a little direct.

Why can't you do-gooders leave us just one place where we can smoke in public?

Do you have to ruin bars for us, too?

I'm a considerate smoker. If I'm around friends who don't like it, I don't do it. I don't smoke around children. If I'm in a crowded outdoor area where you can smoke, I usually don't.

I try to respect people's feelings about it, but I'm getting sick and tired of nonsmokers trying to push their will on those of us who want to smoke.

I imagine that most bar owners don't support this ban, but there's another issue on the ballot that most of these businesses support — Issue 4.

This one is sponsored by Smoke Less Ohio and would allow smoking in bars and restaurants and would roll back all local smoking bans already enacted in Ohio cities. To me, this sounds much better than Issue 5. The kicker is that, if both issues win, Issue 4 trumps Issue 5.

What bugs me about Issue 4 is that it's supported by R.J. Reynolds, the badass cigarette company that's helped me and others get addicted to smoking. I don't know if I would feel right helping all those fat cats in the suits who are encouraging me to kill myself.

You see, I know smoking is bad. I know secondhand smoke is harmful for those exposed to it. Yes, I'm hurting your health as well as my own.

I'm a second class citizen and, in turn, a confused smoker. It might be bad for me, but I don't want bars turned into a healthy experience. Forgive me, but I go there to smoke and drink alcohol, not to do sit-ups or drink high protein shakes.

Maybe I'm not alone in my thinking. I visit other cities and know smoke-free bars have become the routine and the law, but I don't think people who live in these other places like it very much.

Last year I went to Boston, which enacted a smoking ban in bars and clubs in 2004. One night while there, I visited this swank lounge called Modern on Lansdowne Street.

Modern is trendy and vogue, with martinis being the drink of choice. The service is quick and friendly (and expensive), and they have a DJ playing Latin music. The music is great, but when I was there a lot of people weren't listening.

Most were congregated outside on the sidewalk smoking cigarettes. It was a chilly evening and most, including myself, were annoyed to have to be outside.

I've seen the same thing at bars in Maine, Washington state, Michigan and their "smoke free" cities, forcing people to light up on the sidewalk. Wouldn't it make more sense to allow these people to smoke in the bar rather than forcing them outside?

Maybe I'm wrong, but it's hard to believe smoking bans in these cities I've visited hasn't hurt bar business. You're pissing off your customers.

When it comes to Cincinnati and Issues 4 and 5, I'm just too confused as to know how to vote. I can't help big tobacco companies who are behind Issue 4, because I consider them dishonest. I can't vote for Issue 5, because that will mean I'll no longer be able to smoke in bars.

I feel like I'm caught between a rock and a hard place. Maybe I'll just vote no on both issues.

I think I'll let the rest of you sort this out. While you do, you'll find this confused voter and smoker over at Madonna's drinking vodka & tonics, smoking cigarettes with my friend and smiling at the pretty barmaid. I'll enjoy it while it lasts.



CONTACT LARRY GROSS: lgross(at)citybeat.com. Living Out Loud runs every week at citybeat.com and the second and fourth issues of each month in the paper.

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