September 16, 2019

Of Bars and Bans

Smoking, as has been widely reported apparently because so little else is happening in Maine this holiday season, will be banned in bars here starting Jan. 1. Putting a law into effect, however, should not be confused with having an effective law. For that, expect time and public support to make the difference.

In a recent news story, Portland Police Chief Michael Chitwood reports he has received “no direction from the state” about how to enforce the ban, and given the other responsibilities of his officers, “It’s not a priority. I don’t have the manpower to deal with it all.”

Chiefs in this region had a similar reaction. The Bureau of Health says it sent out information to all departments and attended the chief’s annual meeting where it offered further information. Either way, the chiefs say they intend to enforce the law if a com-plaint is filed but don’t expect them to go looking for violators.

Maine has had a restaurant smoking ban since 1999; a ban on smoking in bars is more severe because smoking is so common there, but if the Maine restaurant ban and the bar ban in a handful of other states are models, no catastrophe will befall Maine when its new law takes effect, and people will soon grow to appreciate it. According to two Field Research polls in 2002, the large majority (75 percent) of California bar owners and employees said they preferred to work in a smoke-free workplace, compared with less than half feeling that way four years earlier.

Maine would likely experience the same change, but it will take time. Expect bars to post signs about the Jan. 1 ban (let’s hope they’re not assuming the ban begins at 12:01 Jan. 1, as New Year’s Eve revelers celebrate) and many will have table tents, those small cardboard triangles that sit on tables and often are used for advertising. Waiters will be given cards they can hand out to smokers telling them about the law. The state itself has a Web site ( and a toll-free number, 1-800-560-5269, to report violators.

Hardly anyone is going to want to do that. Instead, the likely outcome is that the bar-going public will over time expect their destinations to be smoke-free and later insist on it to bar owners. This, at least, has been the evolution with other new nonsmoking areas – how often does anyone need to police domestic airlines for smoking? Giving the public time to get accustomed to a healthier place to drink is the best enforcement.

Now, about that alcohol consumption…

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