OREGON'S NEW STATEWIDE SMOKING BAN IS JUST WEEKS AWAY FROM TAKING EFFECT. GOT ANY QUESTIONS?
Wait, there's a forthcoming smoking ban?
Umm... yes. Don't you pay attention?
On the other hand, it's no wonder you've forgotten the January 1st ban is just around the bend. The Oregon State Legislature passed the smoking ban over a year ago—adding bars, bingo halls, and bowling lanes to the existing smoke-free workplace law—with Governor Ted Kulongoski signing it on June 26, 2007.
Meanwhile, our neighbors to the north and south have had bans on the books for ages. California stubbed out smoking in bars back in 1998 and Washington voters passed a referendum in 2005 that nixed nicotine.
Despite passing well over a year ago, Oregon's law stipulated that it wouldn't take effect until January 1, 2009, so the state could prepare for any revenue impact the ban might have.
What is this going to do to state revenue?
Short answer: No one's sure. Though the ban may prompt some people to give up smoking, the impact on cigarette tax revenue is expected to be negligible.
If other states are any example, bars' revenue may fluctuate after the ban takes effect, but there won't be a lasting negative impact.
"One thing we know for certain is that if bar revenue dips a little bit, it comes back up in time," says Cathryn Cushing, communications manager for the Health Promotion and Chronic Disease Prevention Section at Oregon's Department of Human Services.
However, what state officials are keeping an eye on is lottery revenue. Gambling on games like video poker tends to go hand in hand—literally—with smoking. The ban's potential impact is uncertain: "There aren't very many states that have video poker" and have also banned smoking, Cushing points out. This means "we don't have enough info to make a projection about how this is going to impact lottery revenue."
That said, "We're expecting [game revenue] to reduce," says Chuck Baumann at the Oregon State Lottery. "How marked it is, we don't know." For the state's last fiscal year, video-based lottery games brought in $895.1 million to the state, two-thirds of which goes toward education (the rest is split among economic development, natural resources, and problem gambling treatment).
Oregon Senior Economist Josh Harwood says the lottery revenue impact "range could be pretty large," but the state has come up with a "reasonable expectation."
"We're expecting probably a six percent drop in the initial first three to six months. And a longer term impact of one to three percent," he says. He notes, though, that the state may never be able to sort out what impact the ban had on revenue. "The economy's not doing well and lottery dollars are down anyway."
Blah, blah, state budget. SNORE! What about ME? What happens on January 1 at midnight? Is the bar going to yank my ashtray? Will I be arrested if I keep smoking?
Some bars might yank ashtrays at 12:01 am—it's up to them, really. Others will wait until the next day. "We're probably going to finish the night out and that'll be it. Not much we can do," says a bartender at the famously smoky Horse Brass Pub on SE Belmont.
Same goes for the Moon and Sixpence in Hollywood: "We're not going to run around and make everyone put their cigarettes out" at the stroke of midnight, says manager and co-owner Mike Marshall.
And no one will be arrested for continuing to smoke—that night or ever. "There aren't going to be any smoking police out patrolling the city looking for violations," says Cushing. Local health departments will enforce the law in a complaint-based system. If patrons (or neighbors) of a location don't complain, theoretically the health department won't come knocking.
But what if someone does complain?
"When a complaint is filed the first thing we do is communicate with the business and let them know about the law again in case they were unaware," says Cushing. For a second complaint, the health department's rep will drop by to talk the business into compliance. "It's only after a business is unwilling to comply that there's a fine."
The fine is $500 a day (OUCH!), with a $2,000 maximum in a 30-day period. In extreme cases, the state can "engage in further action if the situation isn't remedied eventually," Cushing says.
So far, no bar has officially announced any plans to be a scofflaw bastion for smokers. But we might see a few holdouts after January 1. "There will be stories of people who will defy the law, there always are," says Tim Church, director of communications Washington State's Department of Health. In that state, "there were situations where people protested or stood in the middle of the street because they said it was the only way they could smoke."
But overall, implementation in Washington went smoothly. "We learned from other states who had passed laws like this: The biggest amount of resources we put into education, informing people of what was expected on them," he says. The result? "There have been lots of people who have obeyed the law and did what was asked of them," Church says.
Fine then, I'll just go outside. Hmmf.
Good idea. Just be sure to stand at least 10 feet away from doors, windows, and air intake vents. The new law pushes smokers away from buildings, to prevent smoke from seeping inside.
And yes, this applies to bars' patios. A place with a large deck—like Rontoms on East Burnside, or the Moon and Sixpence—can carve out a smoking area farther from the door. Expect smaller outdoor spaces that are close to the building—like Rotture's porch, and sidewalk cafés—to be smoke free. (It could be worse: Washington's law, which is considered the nation's strictest, has a 25-foot rule. In dense parts of the city, this essentially means the only place far enough from all doors, windows, and vents is the middle of the street. Might want to wear reflective clothing.)
Ugh. Where can I smoke?
There are still a few exemptions in the law. Tribal casinos can allow smoking. Smoke shops and cigar bars can apply for a certification from the Department of Human Services. And up to 25 percent of a hotel or motel's rooms can be smoking rooms.
Plus, you can do what you want at home and in your car, right? This is America, after all.
What if idiots keep lighting up in or around my bar/restaurant/downtown rent-a-cop office? Jerkfaces insist on standing just outside the door—under the awning, where there's shelter from the rain—to puff away! I'm telling them to move, but they just won't! HELP!
Well, you don't want a $500 fine, so you'd better keep a hose handy. Smokers hate when their cigs get wet.
Seriously, though, the state's not out to get anyone. "We are committed to working with business owners. If there's a situation where there's a recalcitrant person, we can help strategize with that business owner so we can correct it," Cushing notes. "We're not going to come in guns a-blazing to take care of it."
At the December 9 meeting of the Downtown Public Safety Action Committee, business owners got a primer on the new ban from the Multnomah County Health Department's Erik Vidstrand. Several responded to his explanation of the 10-foot rule by expressing concern that vindictive people would use the law to exact revenge on a business, by both smoking right at the door and calling in a complaint, in an effort to get a business fined. (Portland Patrol, Inc.'s John Hren seemed particularly worried someone would target his rent-a-cop firm, which has an office just steps from the MAX line. Why so paranoid, John?) Vidstrand talked the business owners down, and Cushing notes that revenge smoking is an "extreme example."
"The chances of that happening are pretty unusual. Most smokers are pretty willing to be respectful of policies and regulations and they're very accustomed to doing so," she says.
Won't taverns and bars, once cleansed of that stale smoke, smell even worse now—like old man farts and grease traps?
Uh... were you going to those bars because they smelled good?
There's some truth here: That stale smoke smell might linger for a while, unless the bar does something about it.
"We're going to close down for a few days and tear the carpet out and put new carpet in," says Marshall at the Moon and Sixpence. "Otherwise it'll still smell like we've been smoking in here for 10 years."
Dots Café on SE Clinton would replace the carpet "if the economy was better," says manager Kurt Van Vlack (who's "looking forward" to the ban). "That was the plan about a year ago." Now, their plan is to have the carpets cleaned, as they do every month, and wipe everything down.
Cushing—if you haven't noticed, she's the state's guru on this new law—makes another point: In places that have already curbed the cigarette habit, "business owners have found that patrons tend to order more food when they can smell it."
How in the world will the Horse Brass get the nicotine off the walls? Won't they need a pressure washer?
"I'm going to make no effort," says Horse Brass owner Don Younger, who's headed up the smoky neighborhood icon for 32 years. He says the state will have to "pass another law" to make him change the carpets or clean the smoke-stained walls.
"The whole dynamic of the place is going to change," he says. "The heart and soul is being removed, surgically. The State of Oregon runs my business now."
How do cigarettes make up the heart and soul of a beer pub? "Not for me, for my customers," Younger explains. "The two just go together, and we're a smoking bar. There's a real sense of community in my bar. It's built around the smokers. The community, which has been there for 32 years, will disappear overnight." He's not concerned they'll go out of business—though he thinks other businesses will. "The corner bar has lost their personality," he says. "The casualty is always the corner bar."
That said, he has no plans to protest the law. "It's useless," he says. The state's "smarter than we are. They're bigger than us."
As you know, I hate children. So is my favorite bar going to be overrun by minors now that the air is clear?
There are lots of Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC)-licensed establishments in town where minors are allowed until a certain time, like 10 pm. And in many of those places, once the kids are kicked out, the ashtrays emerge. So, the thinking goes, if the ashtrays are now in the dumpster, can the kids stay all night?
Nope, says the OLCC's Christie Scott. The OLCC doesn't base their "minor posting" decisions—the rules that allow minors access to some places that allow drinking—on the smoking status of a space.
The confusion arises from the current incarnation of the smoke-free workplace law, which exempts restaurants, bars, and taverns "posted as off limits to minors under rules adopted by the [OLCC]." In other words, once the kids left—or in the spaces where the kids were never allowed—those restaurants, bars, and taverns were exempted from the current law.
The new law just dumps those exemptions, so kids or no kids, there's no smoking. But the OLCC's minor postings won't change.
Ah, fuck it. I should just quit smoking.