List of smoking bans
Stephanie Yao/The OregonianJoe's Cellar in Northwest Portland is an old-time, smoker-heavy dive bar where (from left) Jason Simmons, Nathan Bates, Angela Smedsrud and Victor Albee hang out. Starting Jan. 1, they'll have to go outside for their nicotine.
With the new year comes a new law in Oregon nightlife: smoke-free bars and taverns.
That's right. No more lighting up a cigarette in a sweaty sports pub. Never again sucking down nicotine at the neighborhood bar. Barflies who hate the stink of smoke - breathe in and rejoice.
Oregon officials tout that most bars and restaurants already ban smoking. Studies also show that bars bounced back from smoke-free laws in other states. But, clearly, the era of the smoky bar - in all its smelly, sociable and maybe even stupid glory - will end in Oregon, as it has in Washington and California, New York and Massachusetts.
Whatever side of the lighter you're on, the issue sparks strong feelings.
JAN. 1 CHANGES• Smoking: Prohibition expands to bars, restaurants and other indoor work sites. No smoking within 10 feet of doors, windows or ventilation.
• Bottle bill: Plastic water and flavored water bottles will require a nickel deposit.
• Recycling: Drop off old TVs, computers and laptops at recycling centers throughout Oregon - for free.
• Driver's license: DMV officials will start verifying a person's immigration documents through a federal homeland security system. The change does not affect citizens with a U.S. passport or U.S. birth certificate.
• All-terrain vehicles: Riders younger than 16 must take an online safety training class to ride ATVs on public lands. The minimum age will increase every year until all riders are covered by 2014. Also, a chin strap on helmets is required for riders younger than 18.
• Prisons: Longer sentences for repeat drug and property criminals.
"It's kind of a puritanical wave sweeping this country, " says Sara Blanke, drawing on an American Spirit cigarette half an hour before her evening shift at Joe's Cellar begins. "I'm sure I've knocked off a few years of my life working here, but we're adults. We have free will."
Amy Squire, a server at Dot's Cafe in Southeast Portland, disagrees.
"We're celebrating, " she says. "I'm a smoker; I just don't like working in an insanely smoky environment."
Blanke, 29, is the Friday night bartender at Joe's, an old-time corner hangout on the edge of Northwest 21st Avenue. It's dark and cavernous, glowing with lit cigarettes and television monitors tuned to CNN. A pint of beer here is $2.50 or so, a basic cocktail a dollar more.
Spend a Friday evening with the letter carriers, office workers and artsy cool kids who frequent Joe's and you'll get a variety of reactions about the upcoming ban - from nonsmokers who say they can't wait, to resigned smokers who say they'll probably quit.
Perched near the pool tables are Clark Teigen, his wife, Julie, and their cigarettes - Marlboro reds for him and Marlboro ultra-light 100s for her. They can understand a tobacco blackout in restaurants, but not at Joe's, where just about everyone smokes.
"We've chosen not to vacation in Washington or California because of the smoking rules, " says Clark, a 45-year-old machinist who's frequented Joe's for more than two decades.
"We're moving to Idaho."
Oregon legislators approved the indoor smoking ban 18 months ago, deliberately setting a long lead time so businesses could prepare. The new law expands upon a 2001 ban and prohibits smoking at all indoor work sites. Smoking will not be allowed outside within 10 feet of doors or windows. Motels and hotels must designate at least 75 percent of their rooms as nonsmoking.
The new law does not apply to tribal establishments, such as casinos or restaurants. Businesses can be fined up to $500 a day and $2, 000 a month by the state Department of Human Services for violating the law.
State officials say that at least two-thirds of affected businesses already prohibit smoking.
"We feel like we're ready for it, " says Cathryn Cushing, a spokeswoman with the Public Health Division. "The public's ready for it."
Count Karen Lorts among those sick of smoke after a night out. The 56-year-old letter carrier and her co-workers like to stop by Joe's on payday, even though she doesn't smoke.
"I am suffering, I am telling you it is nasty, " says Lorts, who grew up in family of chain smokers. "It permeates your clothes, your hair. I wake up the next day and my eyes are dried out."
Dave, a smoker who didn't want his full name used, says he'll probably quit. But he disagrees with Lorts, who's hopped over to his table for visit.
"Don't you think if it really bothered you, you wouldn't come here?" he asks.
California long ago outlawed smoking at bars and restaurants, driving smokers to step outside if they wanted a nicotine fix. About two dozen states, plus Washington, D.C., have banned smoking at eateries and bars.
Oregon revenue officials estimate the ban will drop cigarette tax revenues by about $25 million a year. Lottery revenue, they estimate, could shrink $7 million to $15 million a year.
Economist Mazen Malik with the legislative revenue office says they studied other states and generally found that while businesses slowed, they nearly always bounced back, though at a slower growth rate.
"It is not going to be the total disaster that all businesses are going to completely vanish because of the ban, " he says. "At the same time, it is not going to be just one small hiccup with no impact ever."
Oregon benefitted when voters in Washington approved a citizen initiative in late 2005, prompting smokers to frequent bars and purchase cigarettes on this side of the Columbia River.
Consequently, 2006 was a flat year for bars and taverns in Washington, which showed a teeny uptick in sales. But receipts in 2007 grew an astonishing 20 percent, says Mike Gowrylow, spokesman for the Washington Department of Revenue.
"You saw a really strong recovery, and we don't really know exactly why except we assume the bars and taverns have adapted, " he says.
Business at non-tribal gambling places also climbed 7 percent in 2007, after dropping nearly 10 percent in 2006. Sit-down restaurants appeared unaffected.
The department has not analyzed 2008 figures.
Jim Hittner, whose family has owned Joe's since 1994, has put tables on the sidewalk to accommodate smokers.
He stands in a small, empty dining nook, looking at patrons seated around the large wraparound bar. Hittner, who quit smoking years ago, knows just about every customer by name.
"I don't know how this is going to go, " he says, "but to them, this is a big part of their lives."
Later that night, bartender Leisa Vierling settles behind a table in that dining room with a pitcher brimming with tips and a stack of receipts.
The 38-year-old brunette has a sweet, husky voice. She's tended bar since she was 19, and she's who legislators say they had in mind when they passed the smoking ban.
"I kind of resent that a little bit, " Vierling says, "because it should be a choice where we want to work."