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Reports on the effects of the smoking ban

Back when the city passed its more comprehensive smoking ban, there was a lot said by folks in the local music industry about how this would kill the bars, especially those that feature live music. I’m glad to see that John Nova Lomax, who had done some of that public fretting back then, has now taken the time to check around and see if some of those apocalyptic predictions have come true. He starts out by giving free rein to one musician and his anti-ban rant:

It’s safe to say that John Evans is no fan of the recently enacted smoking ban. To him, the municipal stubbing out of our collective ciggies is another step in a long process of pasteurization that is making Houston less, well, Houston.

“This has always been a ‘Screw you we’re from Houston’ kind of town, the last frontier,” he says. “Let everyone else be all tight-ass, but now we’re just like everybody else.”

What’s more, he believes it is harming his bottom line. “The smoking ban is kicking our ass,” he adds flatly.


With Evans’s rant in mind, I decided to call a few more people in the Houston music scene to gauge opinion on the first 90 days of the ban. Here are their responses:

He spoke to a total of eleven people. Here are their responses, briefly summarized:

Pam Robinson, owner, Walter’s on Wash­ington: It really hasn’t had much of an effect on overall attendance.

Geoffrey Muller, musician in the Sideshow Tramps and a host of other bands: I haven’t really noticed a difference.

Byron Dean, singer, Poor Dumb Bastards: Being in a band and being a smoker, it absolutely sucks.

Allen Hill, bandleader, the Allen Oldies Band: I wasn’t a fan of how it became law, but now that it is here, I love it both as a showgoer and a performer.

Tom McLendon, owner, The Big Easy: It certainly hasn’t helped business.

Thomas Escalante, singer in the El Orbits and the owner of record store Sig’s Lagoon: It’s been refreshing.

JJ White, singer-guitarist, Dizzy Pilot: As a nonsmoker I was against it, and I am still against it after the ban.

Pete Mitchell, owner, Under the Volcano: I’m really confused. So much of the feel of my place has changed. The regulars have been shifted to the patio, and there’s not that banter with the bartenders there used to be. Ultimately, though, I think this is a time of transition, and my gut feeling is that people will just smoke less in the future. More people will just give up.

Brad Moore, owner, the Pearl Bar: Mike Simms told me a funny story about the Dwarves show at Rudyard’s a while back. The Dwarves are kinda infamous for doing 20-minute sets, but this time they played for 45 whole minutes. They wanted to do an encore, but the whole room had cleared out as soon as they finished; everybody had stampeded out to the patio. Their fans weren’t expecting them to play that long, and all of them went to go smoke as soon as they were done.

Miss Leslie, singer in Miss Leslie and the Juke Jointers: The smoking ban has been fine, but you have to get used to watching half your audience walk out to go smoke in the middle of your set.

John Egan, singer-songwriter: Who cares? What’s everybody getting so bent out of shape about one way or the other? It’s less smoky. Big deal.

Doesn’t sound like it’s been too bad for business to me. I haven’t gone to many shows lately, but that’s due to babysitting requirements; it certainly isn’t because I miss coming home smelling like an ashtray (not much of an issue for me anyway since the Mucky Duck went to all non-smoking shows). What do you think?

Elsewhere, the Press notes that the smoking ban is being cited as a factor in the closing of Cosmos Cafe.

In an e-mail note to customers on Thursday, owner Pete Pallas said a combination of factors led to his decision, including his workload, not having enough customers willing to support live music, and the recent smoking ban introduced by the City of Houston.

Yesterday was its last day of business, with Friday being its final live show. Ironically, Cosmos is one place I had stopped going because of the smoke. Tiffany and I used to enjoy eating there, but gave up because you couldn’t escape the fumes. I’m still sorry to see it go, but I think it’s a bit of a stretch to blame this on the smoking ban. From the description, it sounds to me like the place was headed towards closure anyway – the smoking ban may have accelerated that, but I doubt it was decisive.

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  1. RedScare says:

    I am embarrassed for you, that you think that your anecdotal comments mean anything. Worse, the one person that might be believable, the owner that went out of business, you dismiss as a stretch.

    FWIW, the bar employees that I talk to disagree with your poll, even if some of them do enjoy the smoke-free environment. Their observations…and mine…are that bars without patios suffer, and those with patios do not.

    As for me? I’m saving money from not going to as many bars. Where having a drink and a smoke used to be enjoyable, having just the drink…without the smoke…not so much.

    Not that anyone cares.

  2. Um, you do realize that it was John Nova Lomax who collected those anecdotal comments, not me, right? I’m just citing what he reported.

    As for Cosmos, I should have been more clear about this, but I was disagreeing with the assertion in the HouStoned post that classified the smoking ban as being “deadly” for the place, when there were clearly other factors at play as well. I stand by what I said – from the description given, it sounds like the place was in deep trouble to begin with, and the smoking ban was more of an accelerant than a catalyst. Your mileage may vary.

  3. RedScare says:

    I did not realize the informal survey was not yours. I retract my embarrassment for you…I’m embarrassed for John instead.

    Sorry that my poor reading comprehension cast you in a poor light.

  4. Stephen Barth, Founder of, Challenges the Industry to Go Non-Smoking

    Please

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    At the 2008 Conference, attendees can get current on pressing concerns in the hospitality industry including franchising, legislation, premises liability, and changes in employment and management contracts. There will be practical tips on metadata, ethics, and corporate compliance, and updates on the ADA and e-discovery.