Bite Me

Bistro Adde Brewster (see review, page 71) is no longer on the front lines of the smoking war. Owner Adde Bjorklund's attempt to take his subterranean Cherry Creek digs non-smoking was just a recon mission, a bold foray into enemy territory to check the disposition of the other side's forces. It was a short-lived experiment -- the new house rules lasted only four months before smokers were again free to light up at the bar -- but a prescient one. "The regulars who came in after work? They were gone almost immediately," one of the bartenders told me when I dropped in for a drink and a smoke. "And the non-smokers weren't exactly lining up at the door."

Unlike in Boulder, Montrose, Louisville and seven other Colorado communities (including Fort Collins, the newest hash mark in the anti-smoking victory column), there's no law -- yet -- in Denver forcing Adde Brewster to chase away paying customers. But it's coming, thanks to the do-gooding troops currently rallying around the battle flag of Smoke-Free Denver and marching in lockstep behind a petition signed by about 3,000 of the local faithful. The vanguard is mobilizing, even now pressuring Denver's Department of Public Health and Environment to draft a proposal to put before Denver City Council. What do they want? They're after your cigarettes, pal, and they're going to protect you whether you like it or not.

The stated aim of Smoke-Free Denver is to have a blanket ban placed on all smoking in all public places, including a smoke-free zone stretching out twenty feet from any door or window. This is their only acceptable solution; there is no room for compromise. "The model ordinance, the only plan they've got, is a complete ban. That's where they're starting," says Pete Meersman, president of the Colorado Restaurant Association. The CRA's official argument against such a blanket ban is primarily economic. For starters, because of the way Denver and its suburbs are laid out, "the issue should be addressed statewide," according to Meersman. If only Denver prohibits smoking in restaurants and bars, a joint that does allow smoking would be just a short drive away in any direction, in Aurora or Lakewood or Glendale. While the 'burbs might see business pick up, the core city would be left cold turkey. "That's why our Denver members are so worried," says Meersman. "I think it would be prudent for Denver City Council to take a hard look at what this will do to the local operators." And that would include thousands of bars and restaurants in Denver.

Leading the charge on the other side is Bob Doyle, chairman of Smoke-Free Denver and director of tobacco control for the Colorado chapter of the American Lung Association. According to Doyle, this is less an issue of economics than it is a fight for the health and safety of food-service workers and a direct response to what he sees as most residents' overwhelming desire to never associate with smokers under any conceivable circumstance...ever. "Should workers be protected from secondhand smoke?" Doyle asks. "The trend is definitely in our favor. Breathing in cancer-causing and poisonous chemicals should never be a condition of employment."

So, from bars and restaurants to bowling alleys and bingo halls, anyplace where more than two people might want to get together and have a good time is disputed turf. Why? Because Smoke-Free Denver knows what's best for us, and once they've had their way with the restaurant and bar owners, patted each other on the back and congratulated themselves for rescuing all of us poor, dumb, working-class shlubs from the evil machinations of the tobacco industry, they're going to be coming to your door, peeking in your windows and waiting for their chance to crash into your bedroom and yank that post-coital cigarette right out of your trembling hands.

So far, this is a battle being fought largely with statistics -- statistics that blow their own smoke. Smoke-Free Denver pushes stats that claim restaurant workers exposed to secondhand smoke are 34 percent more likely to die of lung cancer and that working a shift in a smoky bar is equivalent to smoking two packs of cigarettes. When I mention a study done recently by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory that sent customers into 173 Knoxville, Tennessee, restaurants wearing creepy air-sampling pumps that registered levels of smoke in the air far below any reasonable risk level, Doyle responds, "And you know who funds the Oak Ridge lab, right?" as if I'm supposed to assume that those statistics -- because they ran counter to his beliefs -- were fatally corrupted by secret back-room deals and the mischievous meddling of big tobacco.

Are tobacco companies above this sort of thing? Of course not. They've been lying to the public for years, and it's common knowledge that they pump hundreds of thousands of dollars yearly into doomed fights against community smoking bans all across the country. But when Smoke-Free Denver's own research and polling is being sponsored by the Denver Tobacco Intervention and Prevention Project -- a program funded by the state Tobacco Education and Prevention Partnership and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment -- maybe Doyle should be careful when accusing others of undue bias.

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Jason Sheehan
Contact: Jason Sheehan