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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