Austin Smoking and You

For those living in the self proclaimed Live Music Capital of the world, you may be interested in knowing that as of Sept. 1, 2005, you will not be able to smoke in any public place in Austin.

An ordinance passed over the weekend banning smoking in all public buildings and within 15 feet of all entrances to public buildings. This includes bars, billiard halls, restaurants and bowling alleys. A fine of $2,000 could be applied to anyone violating the ordinance.

But don't lose hope, Austinites. Until the year 2012, there are seven places around town in which you can smoke. Only a couple are obscure, the rest you probably wouldn't want to go to anyway.

The striking thing about the measure passing on the weekend was the turn out. First, it only passed by some 3,000 votes. Second, a good 60,000 people voted. In a city of a million people, that's a decent percentage of voter aged adults getting out on a Saturday to curtail someone else’s personal freedoms.

You heard me. Let's step aside from the fact that this bill sounds the death knell for bars and musicians in Austin. Let's forget that tourism will suffer because the cool places to go to will have to shut down or will be fined into closure because they choose to ignore the ban. Let's instead talk about personal freedoms.

Now, smoking isn't a Constitutional Right. It shouldn't be, don't get me wrong. However, if drinking (another legal narcotic) is allowed and causes just as many traffic deaths as does exposure to second hand smoke, why not ban liquor? Did prohibition work? Did it? Of course it did. It worked so well we don't have it now.

I'm actually trying to quit smoking, so I can appreciate going to places that are not very smoky. Not because of the smoke in the air, but because of the desire it creates to light up myself. I'm also a parent, and I appreciate that people are looking out for kids. What I don't think happened when people voted for this was a good look at some facts about Austin and it's apparent rampant smoking hoodlums terrorizing senior citizens and babies.

  • Of 46,000 businesses in Austin, over 99% are smoke free.
  • No smoking is allowed anywhere children under 18 are present.
  • Over 2000 restaurants are smoke free. Only 6 allow smoking.
  • Over 400 bars are smoke free. Only 200 allow smoking.
  • Over 150 live music venues are smoke free. Only 63 allow smoking.
  • Only 211 businesses and their employees have chosen to allow smoking in Austin.

(from Keep Austin Free)

99% are smoke free. 99%. That's a better rating than most FDA approved drugs. That means that out of 100 restaurants, only 1 allows smoking. That means if you had time to pick from all the restaurants and bars in Austin, only 211 would be withheld from your picking. I haven't been to 211 different restaurants in my whole life and now some folks have decided that it's more important that those final bastions of free choice must be squashed to make room for...for...

...not them.

Because see, the people who voted for the ban aren't the people who go to live music shows on 6th street. They aren't the ones in a crappy bar at 1am watching a hockey game and drinking whiskey. Bars are for drinking, smoking and flirting. Bars are for playing darts, having a cigar, drinking some whiskey and talking really loud about stuff you probably shouldn't. It's a culture; it's a part of society. You don't like it? Go at the source.

Stop the production of tobacco related material. This isn't 1700's Virginia anymore; we don't need the stuff to thrive as an economically sound colony separate from The Crown. You can't have something be legal but prohibited to the extent that it is creating second-class citizens. If suddenly there was a referendum to ban all alcohol in bars or within 15 feet of all public buildings, there would be a HUGE outcry for its dismissal.

However, all ranting aside, I'm in the minority. Just like Gay Marriage and Religion in Schools, I just can't see why anyone would want this. It doesn't make sense to me. Putting limits on personal freedoms that don't necessarily help in the way the measure was intended is political homogeny. No child is dying because of second hand smoke they breathed in while at a shot bar. No waitress or barkeeper is stupid enough to realize that if they don't like working at one of the 211 allowed smoking locations, they can't work at the other 46,000. Anyone falling into these two categories should not be the burden of society. Parents who bring their children to bars should have the kids removed (and apparently not given to gay people.)

But again, I'm in the 49% that just doesn't get it. Along with Houston, New York, Minneapolis and a slew of other cities, Austin is now in line with America and American hates you smokers.

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