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Punch Drunk

This week: The Declaration of Inhalation

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Imagine Humphrey Bogart sauntering around Rick's chewing a piece of bubble gum. In lieu of Nazis, Vichy French and glamorous women, the restaurant is flooded with overcaffeinated rug rats screaming like banshees and oblivious parents eating spinach and organic, grass-fed cow. You see, in my horrific version of “Casablanca,” Morocco has banned smoking in restaurants, including the film's seminal bar, Rick's CafAc AmAcricain. Bogie never looked so dorky.

On Dec. 1 the restaurant smoking ban will take effect in Virginia. The reasons are obvious. Smoking is deadly, it makes your clothes smell and it impedes nonsmokers' ability to enjoy themselves.

I do smoke occasionally, usually when I'm drinking or at a bar, which is more than occasionally, but let's not split hairs here. I also pick up shifts at Havana '59, a bar that caters to cigar smokers. We can all agree that children should not be subjected to smoke and that nonsmokers sometimes get the short end of the stick in many Richmond establishments. Some of the smaller Fan bars come to mind. Predictably, I'm against the ban.

Why not give bars the right to choose? Let the upscale restaurants that focus more on food than booze enact their own bans. Many area restaurants already have put restrictions on smoking such as no smoking before 10 p.m., and many others have already banned it altogether.

Eating and smoking do not go together, but drinking and smoking do. It's human nature, it's ingrained in the fabric of our unhealthy society. It's James Dean, it's Sinatra, it's Don Draper. Why does Tim Kaine get to tell me how to live? If I want to be at a higher risk for cancer, then I'm damn well gonna be.

People have a choice when they go out. Is Buddy's a bit too smoky for your tastes? Go to Balliceaux or F.W. Sullivan's. There's no smoking at either place. With an outright ban you punish the freedom of the smoker and admittedly, we're already punishing ourselves by inhaling all of these delicious chemicals.

In addition to every major city enacting bans, there are multiple valid counterarguments to my opinion, and in many ways I know I'm completely wrong. I also know that there's a certain mystique when it comes to sitting at a bar with a smoke and a drink, a mystique that will never be understood by the health-conscious, Prius-driving, let-my-kids-go-ape-shit-all-over-the-place asstards, who so fervently support the ban. Ah well. …

In all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all of Virginia … so long nicotine. Here's looking at you, kid — whose head I just flicked ashes on.

Richmond bartender Jack Lauterback consumes and slings drinks at a number of local establishments. He also writes a surly blog at www.jackgoesforth.blogspot.com. Find him on Twitter @jackgoesforth. Have a question or comment for the bartender? E-mail: bartender@styleweekly.com.

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