To smoke or not to smoke in bars: That is the question

Mohave County has the highest percentage of adult smokers in the state of Arizona - 35 percent.

Twenty minutes. That was the time it took for the nicotine-hit to clear my body and the next craving to begin. Three cigarettes per hour. Sixteen waking hours per day. Forty-eight cigarettes per day. Twenty per pack. Yes, that's about right - 2 to 2-1/2 packs per day until 1989 when I was finally able to quit.

Nicotine has a lot in its plus column. It helps you to concentrate and think. It calms you down in stressful situations and perks you up when you're down. It is the perfect drug - except for the damage that it does to your body, like bladder cancer. Or the damage its cohorts, the particulates, do to your lungs and blood vessels - like lung cancer and heart disease. It isn't fair that something so good can turn out to be so bad.

The reason it is so tough to break the nicotine addiction is because there are two mechanisms at work. First is a psychological addiction, and second is a physical addiction. I was addicted to the process of smoking - open the pack, tap out a cigarette, put it in my mouth, light the match, touch the flame to the tip of the cigarette, and draaaw that smoke into my lungs. The nicotine diffused into my bloodstream, and within seconds, it filled my brain with bliss.

Next, the physiological addiction. The nicotine attaches to the pleasure center of the brain and generates dopamine. You know dopamine, though you may not know its name. Dopamine is a chemical active in every drug addiction man has discovered - caffeine, alcohol, cocaine, and morphine to name some. The more dopamine you make, the more you want.

There are two ballot initiatives on the Arizona ballot in the Nov. 7 General Election that restrict smoking: Propositions 201 and 206. Both eliminate smoking in most indoor public places including indoor restaurants. Outdoor patios would allow smoking, as could veterans' and fraternal clubs. The big difference is that 206 allows smoking in bars or the bar area of a restaurant if they are physically separated and have a separate ventilation system.

The dirty little secret is this. The tobacco companies are blasting us with ads and literature to support Prop. 206. They know they have lost the fight for the other indoor public places but want to keep smoking legal in bars. Tobacco companies are willing to keep children out of these bars because second-hand smoke is bad for their health, but they want to keep the rest of the patrons hooked.

Think about this addiction. The psychological - just seeing someone light up a cigarette makes you want to light up, too, if you are an addict. If you are a recent quitter, it is very easy to care less about your self-esteem and bum a cigarette. Just one won't hurt will it?

As you leave the bar you may stop at the convenience store to buy your own pack, the compulsion is that strong. The bottom line for the tobacco companies, and it does mean their bottom line, is to keep that addiction going. They want quitters to be in close quarters with smokers.

What about the bar owners' rights? Shouldn't the bar owner have the right to decide whether or not his customers may smoke? It is his property, and Prop. 206 says he can ban smoking in his own bar if he wants to. But does he really have that choice? If his competition allows their customers to smoke and he does not, where will the smokers go? And we know that smokers who drink alcohol prefer one hand on the cigarette and one hand on the beer. They are a team. That bar owner will lose the smoker's business. What he isn't sure of is if that vacuum will be filled by non-smokers. He probably won't take the chance and will allow smoking even though he doesn't want to.

What about smokers' versus non-smokers' rights? Smokers should have a place to go and feel comfortable, and non-smokers have a choice to enter or not. Let the purse make the decision. Vote with your pocketbook. That's fine if we non-smokers are actually given a choice other than not entering a smoker's bar, but since this isn't a level playing field, will there be any non-smoking bars?

For those who say "Can't we leave things the way they are?" Yes, we can. A no vote on both will do that, though polls show that both Prop. 201 and 206 will pass. They are running neck and neck right now, so the one with the most votes will be law. If both pass, the one with the greater number of votes prevails in any area where the two offer conflicting provisions. For example, 206 would allow smoking in bars and would pre-empt existing laws in towns such as Tempe, Prescott, Flagstaff and Sedona that put in their own non-smoking laws. 201 would not allow smoking in bars and would apply a 2-cent per pack tax on cigarettes for enforcement.

A Mesa bar owner says he lost customers to Scottsdale when Mesa banned smoking in his bar. He also says his employee sick calls dropped by 70 percent. New Zealand and Ireland have banned smoking in bars. Their bars are still open. So much for the lost-customer argument when the playing field is level.

These choices are not easy because they pit individual rights against our personal health and comfort, and we want all of that. I will vote Yes on Prop. 201 that bans smoking in restaurants and bars, and No on Prop. 206 that allows smoking in bars and overrides local laws. Prop. 206 lost my vote when they added that pre-emption of local laws clause. That really irritates me.