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Story by Andrew Kiraly
I miss cigarettes. I’ve been thinking about them quite a bit since tavern lobbyists cough cough ahem I mean lawmakers voted to roll back the wide-ranging smoking ban that Nevadans called for in 2006. Hey, mind if I bum an unfiltered Wha?
But mine is a mild, smooth, flavorful sense of outrage marked by confusion and ambivalence. See, I’m an ex-smoker — make that an ex-fiendish-smoker. (My patented secret to quitting: Every time you crave a cigarette, go outside and walk in rapid circles or hop on your bike and pedal until you’re a wheezing pile of stupidly smiling forgetfulness. It’s all about replacing the high.) I know well that nicotine buzz that scoops you away to your own walled existential island of almost spiritual assurance that everything is going to be okay. So yes, I miss cigarettes. Which is why I can’t stand cigarettes — but, mind you, with the principled warmth invoked as a due to an old foe. Conversely, I love chicken strips. And I can’t stand it when my chicken strips smell like someone’s Parliaments. (Official editorial tie-in moment: See our DEALicious Meals on p. 26.)
Sure. Maybe the legislative repeal of the smoking ban is a victory for freedom and economic sanity. Maybe the air quality in a bar really is the same thing as the color of the carpet and the kind of beer on tap — decided at the whim of the owner. Maybe our golden-egg economy is too fragile for ambitious public health initiatives. Maybe casinos and taverns haven’t made — and shouldn’t make — that evolutionary leap to places of general public accommodation from absolutist cubes of private property, special sectors where, hey, you should expect Camel and Marlboro and Winston in the air and if you don’t like it then just blah blah blah. Okay. Fine. Agreed.
But the rollback sure doesn’t feel like a victory, does it? It feels craven (much like the rollout of the original smoking ban felt shrill). It feels cynical (much like the ban felt paternalistic). It feels sneaky and low (much like the ban felt wily and compromised from the start, giving Strip casinos a pass; in their nannyishness, smoking foes lacked the imagination to pursue a noble failure). Any bar owner or ear-wrangling lobbyist toasting this reversal as a win for personal responsibility and the liberties of poor, oppressed tavern owners may be right — but I suspect the loudness of the toast sounds like protesting too much.
But at least we have, I suppose, an aesthetic victory. We’ve injected a dose of Botox into that notion that Las Vegas as a community is, like the glittering diorama we sell to tourists, some darkly glamorous libertarian stronghold with contrarian sensibilities unique to our region, our origins, our history. A stronghold where we see phrases like “public health” as the chimeras and shibboleths of nosy outsiders — outsiders as in, oh, you know, 25 other states that have passed aggressive smoking bans since 2000.
Hurray (I guess). In my years of lighting up, I smoked a lot of cigarettes in a lot of different ways. But I don’t recall ever quite smoking victoriously.
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