Smokeasies defy smoking bans across the country
January 6, 2009
by J.D. Tuccille
There’s no ban or edict that any government can stuff down its subjects throats that some people will not resent and defy. Ample proof of that comes from Illinois, where The Telegraph reports, “[l]ike speakeasies during Prohibition, the area now has ‘smokeasies.’ Almost every town has a bar or two where people know they can go to smoke without being told to extinguish it.” Welcome to the resistance, folks. Similar reports are trickling in from across the United States.
Where can you find smokeasies? Over the past few years, they’ve been spotted in Colorado Springs, Honolulu, New York City, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle …
In Cleveland, where smoking and stripping were restricted at the same time, the bans resulted in two-fer “smokehouses” where sex, booze and tobacco mingle in a completely illegal environment.
Sounds like, fun, to be honest.
Elsewhere, licensed, above-ground establishments simply thumb their noses at the law, relying on loyal clientele to appreciate the scofflawry and keep their mouths shut. Logically enough, this suggests that low-profile, neighborhood establishments have a better chance at surviving as speakeasies than glitzy joints full of ever-changing changing faces.
According to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:
The smoke-easies tend to be in neighborhood dives; the Ballard bartender noted that it’s too risky to allow smoking in trendy bars like the ones in Belltown. “If you’re in the Frontier Room or the Rendezvous,” he said, “you can’t tell who’s going to mind the smoking or not because there’s a different crowd there every night.”
In a neighborhood dive, even a militant anti-smoker will keep his mouth shut if wants to avoid pariah status.
None of this should be a surprise to anybody. The word “smokeasy” or “smoke-easy” is, after all, a play on “speakeasy,” the name for establishments that sold illicit booze to willing customers during the long, dark years of Prohibition. Politicians may please themselves or the mob with restrictive laws, but very often such laws are unenforceable, because people subject to those laws aren’t willing to comply, no matter the penalty.
No matter the penalty?
That’s right. In 1633, Sultan Murad IV of the Ottoman Empire imposed the death penalty for smoking tobacco or drinking alcohol or coffee. Penalties were enthusiastically enforced. Even so, his subjects were … unimpressed. The bans were repealed by his successor.
As Cleveland police Detective Tom Shoulders put it, “You put too many restrictions on people, they’re going to find someplace else to go for their entertainment.”
Wisdom from the mouths of enforcers.
Prohibitions don’t work because no penalty is harsh enough to make unwilling people obey. Nicotine Nazis follow in the footsteps of drug warriors who walk the same path picked by Prohibitionists. All have tried to bend people to their will, and all have failed.
They do damage, though. Bans and restrictions inflict fines and prison time on people (and sometimes death). Nanny-staters often escalate their efforts rather than surrender to reality. By raising the stakes, enforcers empower criminals, who are best suited to profit from governments’ authoritarian missteps and to undermine law-enforcement efforts.
But even flawed, defiant liberty is better than submission to the control freaks who would tell us how to live our lives. Light ’em if you got ’em and puff out a toast to the smokeasies of Illinois — and elsewhere.