Austin Got Hoodwinked by Smoking Ban

RECEIVED Tue., Jan. 12, 2010

Dear Austin Chronicle,
    I'd like to clear up some misperceptions regarding the 2005 smoking ban and its direct effect on business at Room 710 [“Off the Record,” Music, Jan. 1]. First and foremost, let's be clear; the smoking ban was one of a number of nails in the 710 coffin, and not the final nail, either. In essence, what Austinites voted into law in May 2005 was an ordinance drafted by the American Lung Association that placed direct culpability of a private citizen's otherwise legal act (smoking tobacco) upon the establishment (i.e., a bar) in which the public smoker is actively breaking the ordinance. This law was written to update all “work places” to OSHA standards, which technically meant this bill was drafted to protect the late-night industry work force from the effects of secondhand smoke, but was being used backhandedly in order to force a change in behavior among the general public. Essentially, a bar at midnight was now expected to maintain the same sanitized standards as a courthouse at high noon. Never mind the fact that folks who attend bars are actively pickling their livers. Never mind the fact that there has never been a successful scientific study breaking down the effects of secondhand smoke as actually causing cancer, as opposed to, say, the chemical compounds found in our food and on our roads everyday.
    The law created an uneven playing field for Room 710 to compete on, and eventually our business model became obsolete. Smokers like to drink, and drinkers like to smoke, and to suggest that this is an unholy union of vices isn't being very realistic. As a strictly indoor, live music venue, these two actions together could only be done illegally. Whereas before the ban, the rules of capitalism indicated that there was enough of a marketplace for my business to compete, that the folks who were offended by the amount of indoor smoke at 710 didn't impede upon my business and its ability to conduct itself successfully to people who weren't concerned with the smoke. By drawing the law straight down the middle of these two age-restrictive, social activities, Room 710 was deemed incapable of creating an acceptable, market-run atmosphere. With the ban in place, our monthly sales fell from an average of approximately $35,000 a month to an average of approximately $25,000 a month, with the low point occurring in May 2006 (one year after the vote), when Room 710 generated just over $19,000 in sales.
    Clearly, the nonsmoking advocates who loudly professed their urge to attend local, live music shows once the quality of the air improved were more than likely flat-out liars trying to make their poorly thought-out ordinance appear palatable to a letters-to-the-editor reading public. I guess I can't quite blame them, because the tactic worked. Still, it bears repeating that for five years, without the smoking ordinance, Room 710 didn't turn off enough of a society of grown adults making their own decisions for late-night entertainment. In the end, Austin got hoodwinked. Businesses, like mine, did indeed suffer.
Asher Garber
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