Setting the Stage for Smoking
It turns out that our neighbors to the north, Minnesota, went even further, taking the theater to the bar room, state smoking ban be damned. An exception to the law in the Land of 10,000 Lakes allows smoking for theatrical performances, so some select establishments have decided to make their bartending staff the central cast, with customers making cameos at nightly performances, and smokers playing their former selves in the days when tobacco ruled taverns. The state health department contends that patrons are indeed breaking the law, and threaten to dish out fines of up to $10,000.
Nothing against Minnesotans, but I was a little bothered by the fact that Prairie State residents didn't think of our own creative interpretation of the new state law. Unfortunately, our statute doesn't have a theatrical exception, but it does allow for smoking in most private residences, some nursing home and hotel rooms, and at tobacco shops. One Chicago entrepreneur went to far as to close his taco house last year and convert it into a tobacco lounge, and I anticipate similar enterprises to emerge and meet the demands of smokers. You see, whatever your position on public smoking bans, this is the marketplace at work.
When private behavior is altered by public rules there is what my old tax accounting professor called "excess burden." Smoking bans now circle the country, from the California to the New York Island. Instead of pointing to a few college towns with bans, we now stare in amazement when puffy plumes remain as much of a bar staple as beer. Some in the Badger State, for instance, worry that it will soon become the "Ashtray of the Midwest" with bans in adjacent Minnesota and Illinois. Local ordinances have had similar effects, driving customers across city limits to puff at pubs.
When smoking was banned in pubs in Dublin, we knew it could happen anywhere. Many Midwesterners will celebrate St. Patrick's Day this weekend in local watering holes as purified as their Irish peers. Along with shamrock beads, plastic leprechaun hats and green beer, however, expect winter-weary revelers to search for a four-leaf clover in the law. Rest assured that Chicago tobacco shops with be filled to capacity, and yes, there will be no shortage of off-Broadway talent in the Land of Lakes.