"Cigarettes and whiskey and wild, wild women. They'll drive you crazy. They'll drive you insane" - 50th Ward Alderman Bernie Stone
I guess they've had their last meeting in those legendary "smoke-filled back rooms." Yesterday, accompanied by a public display of laughter and bawdy song, Chicago City Council finally passed a ban on smoking in most public places. While many of us have waited a long, long time for such an ordinance, we're going to have to wait longer still for it to take effect.
Disappointingly, the legislation as passed does not pass the "Empty Bottle" test, embodied in the statement:
"If the city passed a smoking ban, I'd be able to hop down to the Empty Bottle and watch a jazz, alternative, or punk band without my eyes turning read and my jacket smelling so bad I can't wear it again for a week." In spite of the fact that the bar is scarcely a mile from our house and features some of the best music in the city, we rarely go there, because of air quality issues. It just frankly stinks in there, and my wife won't go unless, of course, her friend's band is playing (like they will be this Saturday night, the 10th). So I don't want to hear about smokers' rights, or how a ban will drive people away from local businesses. It didn't hurt business in New York. In fact, it's probably helped, because it's such a pleasant and non-foul-smelling experience to go to a bar there. Every time I visit I'm amazed by how far you can see in those places, how clean everything is, and how it almost completely fails to stink.
Alas, Chicago's "ban" as passed allows smoking in bars and restaruants with bars in them until July 1, 2008, at which time Chicago, rather than being one of the first cities to have such a law, will almost certainly be one of the last. Furthermore, individual bars will be exempt from the restriction if they can devise "air filtration or purification devices" that "render the exposure to secondhand smoke" in the bar or tavern "equivalent to exposure to secondhand smoke in the ambient outdoor air surrounding the establishment." Of course, no such technology exists at this point, but it does leave open the possibility that the city will eventually come up with some bogus air quality standards that undermine the law altogether. And that, my friends, will stink.