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Top 10 Stories of 2006: Santa Fe Smoke Out

December 20, 2006, 12:00 am
Cigarette-free air doesn't always smell like roses.

For Santa Fe smokers, the lights went out in 2006. Although the city had passed a limited smoking ban in 1999, that law still allowed bars and restaurants to provide smoking areas, as long as they had separate ventilation.

But the new law, passed unanimously by the City Council in June, banned smoking indoors entirely, and also included a ban on smoking on outdoor patios and within 25 feet of any ***image1***doorway.

"The unanimous passing of a worker health issue was a good thing for the city because people can now go out with their families and not have to worry about smoke," City Councilor Patti Bushee, the bill's main sponsor, says.

Although there was little opposition to the law prior to its passage, in the aftermath there was plenty of confusion about its implementation [Outtakes, July 12: "Smoke Alarm"].

Six months later, the rules are clearer, but the outlook for once-smoker-friendly establishments is ***image2***still hazy. Aztec Café used be a haven for Web-addicted smokers and offered an entirely separate room for them. These days, fewer people are enjoying the clear air and free Wi-Fi. Aztec owner Sarah Wilhelm says she's seen an approximate 20 percent drop in business. "There were people I used to see every day, but that haven't been around at all since July," she says.

Just around the corner from the Aztec, Cowgirl co-owner Nicholas Ballas, an outspoken proponent of the ban, says he too has seen a slight drop in business. The Cowgirl has tried to offer a haven to its smoking customers by parking an old Denver city bus in front of the restaurant for smokers [Outtakes, Sept. 27: "Park 'N' Smoke"] but, Ballas says, "Logistically it's been challenging. We've had to find places to park this thing, keep it maintained and, most importantly, safe. We don't want it to be part of the problem, but add to the solution."

Outside the city limits, the smoking ban does not apply and the recently closed Alegria allowed patrons to smoke at most shows. The Santa Fe Brewing Company, however, allows smoking on its patio, but continues to be nonsmoking indoors. Manager Jeff Williams, who supported the ban after seeing his mother pass away from a smoking-related illness, says he hasn't seen a change in the Brewing Company's business, but has heard that his customers, many of whom bring their families with them while they dine, "really appreciate a smoke-free environment for dining."

Although the Santa Fe Tobacco Free Coalition, which lobbied for the ban, mostly promoted it as a workers-rights issue, some local musicians also say the ban has been good for them. "The smoke did coat my voice so that I actually had extra texture and a ***image3***thicker sound, which was nice, but I'd rather have a thinner sound and no cancer," William Manfredi, singer for That '70s Band, says.

Others, such as guitarist F Michael Baker from Moby Dick, The Gluey Brothers and Love Gun, believe the smoking ban has had a detrimental impact on the city's nightlife. "There have definitely been positive aspects, but I think there should be some sort of concession made to people who want to go out and have a cigarette with their beer. For them to just completely across the board kill smoking is ridiculous. It reeks of fascism. I think less people are going out for sure, and it's part of the Santa Fe City Council's über plan to shut down nightlife in the city."


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