Tobacco Lounge Gets Around Smoking Ban

R.J. Reynolds has taken advantage of a loophole to get around Chicago’s public smoking ban.

Glasses clink, friends chat in plush chairs and a fire crackles in a stone hearth at Marshall McGearty Tobacco Artisans, a “tobacco lounge” that has opened in Chicago’s trendy Wicker Park neighborhood. It appears every bit the bar or coffeehouse. But appearances can be deceiving: Marshall McGearty is technically a tobacco retail shop with at least 65 percent of its sales in tobacco. And that means it is exempt from Chicago’s new ban on smoking in bars, restaurants and other public places.

Many patrons on a recent evening were enjoying the lush atmosphere and freedom, they said, from dirty looks from nonsmokers. But critics say the parent company of the lounge, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., is taking advantage of a loophole in the city’s anti-smoking ordinance. “It’s just another example of tobacco companies skirting the law,” said Kevin Tynan, marketing director for the American Lung Association of Metropolitan Chicago.

This actually seems like the perfect solution: Public restaurants and bars are smoke free so that the majority of the public that is non-smoking can enjoy those places without contamination and yet those who wish to get together and smoke have an inviting place in which to do so. Why would anyone object to that?

“We certainly expect them to try to put these in other cities with bans,” said Annie Tegen, program manager for the group Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights. “This is just another slimy trick by Big Tobacco to circumvent the system. An $8 pack of cigarettes still exudes the same toxins as a $4 pack. For the people of Chicago, this is an equal opportunity killer.”

But it isn’t. It imposes whatever health risk it imposes only on those adults who choose to be there. While that’s technically true of smoking in regular bars and restaurants as well, it forces non-smokers to choose between social isolation or being subjected to nasty tobacco smoke. The sole purpose of this lounge, on the other hand, is to sell and facilitate the consumption of tobacco. Non-smokers would have zero interest in going there.

Tegen and other anti-smoking advocates said they think tobacco lounges ultimately will be unsuccessful in the face of growing opposition to smoking. “I’d expect this business model to flop,” Tegen said. “People in Chicago are excited about the smoke-free law. And many smokers I know in Chicago don’t mind stepping outside for five minutes to smoke. I don’t see them as a trend that will continue.”

So, then, let the market decide. Protecting the public health is one thing. Being an anti-smoking Nazi is quite another.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Frank says:

    makes sense…I assume alcohol is banned in public places, except for pubs. Cigarretes also, except in tobaccorias…of course when the smokers complain about the drinkers alcohol will be banned from the tobacco bars, thus creating alcohol lounges that permit smoking…

  2. LJD says:

    Yes. let the market decide. So why do we have all of these stupid bans?

    Friday afternoon, in an Irish Pub, I had to listen to some lady flat-out bitch about the smoky atmosphere. There are at least two other Irish pubs in town, and several other bars that are non-smoking. My comment to her- Shut up and go somewhere else! If the owner gives a crap about your money, he’ll change the rules on his own.

  3. Ross Judson says:

    I’ll buy it, but only if you tell me what kind of hazard/danger pay the employees of the place should get for being forced to inhale smoke every working hour. What kind of health plan do they offer, so if their employees end up with a smoking-related illness, they’ll be taken care of?

    None, you say? $2.00 an hour, you say, plus tips? 😉

    Remember, the New Republican Economy consists of little other than low-pay service jobs…so these people don’t have much of a choice.

  4. John Burgess says:

    Did they drop a piece in the article that explained how the club’s employees were being kidnapped at gunpoint and forced to work in a smokey room?

    If that’s not the case, then it seems like another example of free market forces at play. Here’s a job, but it entails working in a smoke-filled environment? Got a problem with that? Well, this job’s not for you. There are alternative environments in which to work, just not at this particular place.

    Were the club the sole employer of service staff, then this might be an issue. Since it’s a unique employer it offers no hinderance to employees seeking smoke-free working environments, except in this one place in the entire city. Maybe all the employees like to work in a place that permits them to smoke on the job?

    Rather than making tobacco stores re-invent themselves, anti-smoking laws should have been tailored to permit the business owners to decide whether or not it was in their economic interest to go smoke-free. As the majority of American’s prefer no-smoking places, the majority of businesses would enact no-smoking policies. Those who chose to cater to smokers would acknowledge the limited number of their potential clientele and decide to take that economic risk.

    Most anti-smoking laws are utter intrusions by the nanny state in decisions that properly belong in the hands of private businesses and individuals. Are non-smokers just too stupid to find places that have no-smoking policies so that they need the government to make the universe non-smoking? If that‘s the problem, it’s a far more serious one than a pack of cigarettes…

  5. Mark says:

    Remember, the New Republican Economy consists of little other than low-pay service jobsâ?¦so these people donâ??t have much of a choice.

    Yes, we are all working 7 days a week shuffling between our jobs at McDonald’s and Ruby Tuesdays. It is a miracle so many people can spend so much time blogging.

    And yes, people do have a choice of where to work – people change jobs all the time, even at restaurants and bars! And what is to say these people will stop at smoking? You know, lots of people are allergic to peanuts, so why allow restaurants to offer them and cook with them to the chagrin of the lowly worker who is forced to work in a place that cooks with food he is allergic to?

  6. Herb says:

    Maybe someday, some people will wake up and conclude that this “no smoking ” thing is nothing more that a giant Money Money Machine devised by and for lawyers who have made Billions from smoking.

    If one chooses not to smoke or chooses not to patronize an establishment that allows smoking, then he or she has only not to go there.

    The idea that “If I don’t like smoking” you must be like me and not smoke is about as un American as anything I can think of.

    But there are many closed minded people who will never change and will choose to ban smoking hoping to get in on the millions yet to be made by sleazy lawyers.

  7. Cartman says:

    Friday afternoon, in an Irish Pub, I had to listen to some lady flat-out bitch about the smoky atmosphere.


    Nice try!

    You were obviously not in an Irish Pub since the pubs in Ireland are smoke-free.

  8. LJD says:

    Nice try Cartman.

    Please excuse my political incorrectness… but I was in an Irish-American Pub. But since we’re on the subject, the Pubs in Ireland, smoke if they damn well want to, regardless.