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The Beatdown

In Denver, it seems, smokers can't get no respect.

Late last year, Mootown residents locked horns over the holiday lighting display at the Denver City and County building, re-igniting the age-old conflict between church and state. For all I care, next year Hizzoner Hick could put Don King in the Nativity scene and have the lights above his office spell out "Happy Boxing Day." We've got bigger fish to fry, folks. There's a far more incendiary encroachment threatening to snuff out our quality of life -- or at least mine.

The separation of smoke and state.

Even though a similar initiative completely flatlined a few years ago, the Denver City Council is once again considering a citywide smoking ban in restaurants, bars and clubs. Although I'm outraged by the idea, I'm not surprised by it. I can read the writing on the wall, and it says: IF YOU SMOKE, YOU STINK. These days, those of us who smoke -- a dying breed, both figuratively and literally -- are in the minority. But more than that, we're modern-day lepers. Like it or not, we're surrounded by anti-smoking zealots, and they hate us.

A few Fridays ago, I was at the Ogden for KTCL's Local Bands Aid Foreign Lands benefit, featuring Ion, Love.45 and the Fray, when one of those militant morons accosted me. I was standing on the all-ages side, minding my own business, waiting for the show to start. Bored, I had just pulled a fresh smoke from my jacket and fired up, like I have a thousand times before at the Ogden. But no sooner had I taken a drag than some audacious menopausal broad -- who should've been home watching Reba within the smoke-free confines of her double-wide -- stepped up to me. "Can you put that out?" she asked (demanded, actually). "I'm allergic to smoke."

"Um, ma'am, can you, like, go pound sand or something?" That's the response such a request typically elicits from me. But I was with my wife -- who's easily embarrassed -- and my still somewhat impressionable offspring. So I chose not to make a scene and instead replied, "No problem. I'll move to the other side of the bar," mistakenly thinking she'd be happy with that.

She wasn't. As I was making my way to the other side, I heard her say, "There's no smoking at all in here, only outside." Of course, the woman -- who looked as though she hadn't been to a show since Skynyrd in '77, much less to a show at the Ogden -- was absolutely clue-free. For now, anyway, you can still smoke at the Ogden. But there may soon come a day when you can't.

Dave Clamage, the owner of Rock Island, believes it's only a matter of time. "I think that some form of a ban citywide or statewide is an inevitability," says Clamage. "If they can ban smoking in Italy, they're certainly going to ban smoking in Denver."

Clamage is probably right -- but that doesn't mean a city ordinance is necessary, or in order. Anti-smoking proponents disagree, though, and offer up a litany of statistics to back their position. The website of Smoke Free Denver, a group lobbying city council for such a ban, cites a "recent" (read: three-year-old) survey conducted by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment that indicated that more than half of all Denverites prefer to work and play in a smoke-free environment. "In a recent survey, 57% said that smoking should not be allowed in restaurants," the website reads, "while 79.3% said that smoking should not be allowed in indoor work areas."

Call me cynical, but I suspect the majority of those polled were non-smokers. Admittedly, a lot of the anti-smoking statistics are irrefutable, but to me, some of those studies seem subject to spin. And Clamage agrees. "My educational background is economics," he says. "And you can skew statistics in any direction that you want to. I am not convinced that the data that's been presented by the anti-smoking folks is any less skewed than data that I would present."

Unlike me, Clamage isn't a smoker. He's a businessman, and he's concerned about the impact a citywide smoking ban would have on Rock Island, which boasts the city's longest-standing nightclub-and-cabaret license. So a few weeks ago, he sent an open letter to Councilman Doug Linkhart and his cohorts, expressing his concerns about what such a ban could do to the local entertainment industry.

"I think unless it's a statewide ban, it would be tremendously negative to our business," Clamage says. "And then, from an operational perspective, I think it would be negative for our business. By way of example, if my patrons who smoke are forced to go to the sidewalk to have a cigarette, my neighbors are going to find that disruptive -- noise, litter, etcetera." While anti-smoking zealots contend that the burgs where smoking has been outlawed haven't suffered -- and, of course, there's hard data to back that up -- I can tell you that I avoid non-smoking joints like the plague. And though I don't presume to speak for all music fans who smoke, I doubt I'm alone.

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