Now that we’re almost three weeks into the Springfield smoking ban, one thing is certain: The bars are clear of smoke. Clothes smell fresh; throats don’t tickle in the morning. Unfortunately, most patrons seem to have cleared out as well — as we wags like to say, the crowds have gone up in smoke. The tavern operators I talk to, except the ones with outdoor seating areas or those immediately outside the city limits, report a drop in business of close to 50 percent.
My main concern is this: If normal bar headcounts are down as a result of the smoking ban, how will it affect the attendance of live music shows in clubs? The argument that many nonsmokers sat pining away at home, waiting for the ban, does not carry much weight in reality. Certain shows, such as younger indie-rock bands or gentle folk groups, might get more patrons, but fans of Commander Cody like to smoke just as much as he does. Local weekly acts will likely suffer the most, because their crowds are, for the most part, walk-ins. We might see a few new faces, but will it make up for those who would have been there but now won’t go because they can’t smoke indoors? Sorry, but I don’t think so.
A quick online check of smoking bans elsewhere in the nation reveals the same phenomenon: Bar business goes down when a ban goes into effect, especially for the first few months. The numbers creep back up as some smokers capitulate and return, but they never rebound to pre-ban levels.
Yes, folks, the day of the neighborhood tavern — where little old ladies sip beer from a glass and leave red lipstick stains on the filters of their cigs, where rough-and-tough workers discuss the heroics of the day while puffing smokes and downing shots, and where real men are defined by lighting the cigarettes of inebriated barflies — are over. It doesn’t matter who sues whom or how many people complain or abstain or if every corner bar in town closes up; the ban will not be repealed. It’s happening all over the country, and that’s just the way it is.
As a musician who works in nightclubs, I can only hope that smokers find it in their hearts and lungs to continue to attend shows and learn to appreciate the smoke-free world while grumbling about the long hike outside to slake a nicotine thirst in the fresh air.
Contact Tom Irwin at firstname.lastname@example.org.