Bite Me

Butt Seriously, Folks

We're coming down to the wire. Before old-guard members of the Denver City Council surrender those big, comfy chairs to ten incoming freshmen, they'll almost certainly vote on a proposed smoking ban for this city. Mayor Wellington Webb has made such a ban his top priority before he leaves office July 21, and outgoing councilwoman Allegra "Happy" Haynes has said she's invested too much work in the effort to hand it off to the next council.

Supporters of the ban have been out in force -- carrying signs, sitting in on meetings in council chambers, talking to any available TV camera. The opposition hasn't been nearly as active. Plenty of folks out there in TV land -- both smokers and non -- are pissed off about the pending ordinance, but they have yet to get militant. Granted, it's tough to show a pro-smoking group in a favorable light these days: Smokers are the new minority group that it's socially acceptable to hate. So don't expect to see people gathering in the streets and pelting councilmembers with packs of smokes on their way into the Denver City and County Building.

We all know that smoking is bad. We all know that the odds favor the Grim Reaper. But what irritates me is that we've also become convinced that smokers, as a class, are dumb, redneck, blue-collar dipshits who need to be protected because they're too weak and too stupid to protect themselves. We're asked to swallow the notion that because smoking is proof that smokers make poor lifestyle choices, they shouldn't be allowed to make any choices at all. And smokers everywhere -- myself included -- are not so subtly reminded that they should all be ashamed for lighting up.

Location Info


An's Lemongrass Grille

1617 California St.
Denver, CO 80202

Category: Restaurant > Vietnamese

Region: Downtown Denver

But to me, this has never been about smoking. It's about choice, about intrusive legislation, about the new mindset in government that says our elected officials must act as nursemaids -- benignly baby-proofing our world, patting us on the head and saying it's all for our own good.

And if you think that the final vote on the Denver smoking ordinance will be the end of such health-and-welfare legislation, think again. In Britain, they're already looking at boosting taxes on fatty foods to encourage people to eat healthier. This from people who think blood sausage and kidney pie are acceptable breakfast foods. And right here in the U.S. of A., the government is considering a federal law making it illegal to sell soda and junk food at schools. Would it be better if kids ate apples and drank spring water rather than sucking down Coke and Ding Dongs? Absolutely. Do we need a law to make selling them illegal? Absolutely not.

Councilmembers and media types alike have recently been flooded with similar-sounding (and certainly similarly intended) anti-smoking letters from restaurants as divergent in style as Sweet B.O.B.'s BBQ (1 Broadway), Champa Deli (837 16th Street), An's Lemongrass Grille (1617 California Street) and the Sonoda's outlet at 550 Broadway. The only things these places -- around forty at last count, although I've been told to expect about seventy -- have in common are that they're already non-smoking joints, and they all claim to have suffered no adverse business effects since they ordered the nicotine fiends to light up outside.

According to Bonnie Mapes, administrator of tobacco-control programs for Denver Public Health, the mailing campaign was started "to show councilpeople the effect of a smoke-free ordinance" and to prove that "this isn't going to impact the businesses in Denver negatively."

Gotcha, Bonnie. But all of these restaurants are operating in a climate where people have the choice of a smoking or a non-smoking restaurant. Sonoda's, for example, doesn't allow smoking at its new Broadway location, but it does at its double-decker sushi bar at 1620 Market Street. The downstairs dining area there is smoke-free, while in the upstairs bar, customers are free to light up whenever they choose. According to owner Kenny Sonoda, a representative of the Denver Alliance -- aka the Denver Tobacco Intervention and Prevention Project (your tobacco-settlement dollars at work) -- showed up at the LoDo address, prepared a pro-ban letter and asked Sonoda to sign it. Sonoda "didn't want to lie," he says, and requested that the address of the Market Street outpost be changed to the 550 Broadway address.

The letter was redone, the 550 Broadway address was inserted, and Sonoda signed on the dotted line. But he's still not sure how he feels about this city's government dictating what he can and can't allow in his restaurants. "I've been in business for nine years at this location," Sonoda says. "We have a lot of smokers coming. Especially international convention business -- Europeans and Japanese -- and a lot of them are smokers. If I have to take it [the smoking section] out, I think it'll hurt for a time. For the first couple of years, it'll be tough." Hmm....doesn't sound like a glowing endorsement of the proposed smoking ban to me.

Still, other letter signers are more enthusiastic. Tyson Henry says he and a Denver Alliance rep "sat down and wrote the letter together" for the 1875 York Street Le Peep. "The man from the Alliance worded the letter, and I just signed it," says Sweet B.O.B.'s Bruce Harrison, "but because of my daughter, I don't want smoking in my restaurant, anyhow."

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