Rudy Panucci On Pop Culture

Smoke Gets In Your Craw

The PopCulteer
April 24, 2009

Clearing Up The Haze

Allow me to preface this piece with an admission of bias. I am a staunch supporter of the Kanawha County smoking ban. The day it took effect, July 1, 2008 was one of the happiest days of my life because it meant that I could go to bars and hear my favorite local bands without getting sick or putting my life at risk. Previously in this blog I have explained my view on smoking in public, so it pains me to see talk of weakening or repealing the smoking ban in Kanawha County. Both my parents died from diseases clearly linked to my father’s smoking. A little less than two years ago, I buried an aunt who smoked herself into an early grave. Over the years I’ve lost countless friends and family members to tobacco-related illnesses. I am not going to hide my views or feign impartiality here. Pardon my shrill stridency, but I feel it’s completely justified.

My home newspaper of nearly 18 years, The Charleston Gazette, ran an editorial Thursday, April 23 that called for a “compromise” on the Kanawha County Smoking Ban, I have never been more ashamed of an editorial published in my paper than this one. You know that I am a strong supporter of the smoking ban. Without it, I would not be able to cover the music scene in Charleston. Exposure to tobacco smoke makes me violently ill, which is really not an uncommon plight. Many people avoided going out to listen to live music because they couldn’t deal with the tobacco smoke. The music scene in this town is becoming vibrant again, in large part because non-smokers are able to get out and enjoy an evening of music for the first time without having their lungs assaulted. Now the newfound freedom of the non-smoker is being threatened.

The editorial in question says, “Specifically, we think there should be room for possible compromise in the noisy battle over whether cigarettes may be allowed in bars and casinos.” I suppose that we should have also sought out room for possible compromise during the “noisy battles” over slavery or giving women the right to vote? Should we really be looking to compromise when one side is clearly right and the other totally wrong? Is that what FOX News has wrought? We have to give equal time and consideration to people who believe the Earth is flat, or the sky is polka-dotted, or that second-hand smoke isn’t a health hazard? Seriously?

We already have compromised. Cigarettes are legal (for now) and you can smoke then in the privacy of your own home. That’s the compromise. Prohibition didn’t work, but we still arrest people for public intoxication. Demanding to indulge in the habit of smoking in public is simply selfish, childish and unreasonable. Years ago in a particularly articulate rant in this blog I asked the question, “Why should smoking be any more legal than sex?” I still haven’t heard a decent answer. You can’t have sex in a bar, so why should you be allowed to smoke there? Here’s a compromise: if the county will let people have sex in bars, they should be allowed to have a cigarette afterward. Otherwise, how about we keep some things private?

Why would you insist on going to a public place and doing something that makes the other people there sick? The only explanation is that you are either a sociopath or an addict. I am struck by the naked, emotional reaction of the smokers to this ban. Four-year-olds show more dignity. The reason we need a ban is that smokers have long demonstrated a total disregard for the health of non-smokers. It’s been going on for as long as most of us have been alive. It’s no wonder that they’ve threatened health inspectors. These are people who put their own gratification above all else, even their own health.

The Gazette editorial uses the same bogus statistics and chop-logic that Eric Eyre used in a Sunday Gazette-Mail piece a few weeks ago. It tries to tie the smoking ban to a drop in gambling revenue, while playing down the fact that table games were legalized and the economy tanked during this same period. How about we add the revenue from the table games to the revenue from the race track and the slot machines and see if there’s still a drop in the total?

For the last month I’ve been going around saying, “Thank God Martin Bowling came along. He’s distracted Eric from his crusade against the smoking ban.” Eric’s work is usually very journalistically sound, but his coverage of the Kanawha County smoking ban has been biased, histrionic, and loaded with manipulated “facts.” Frankly, it’s been embarrassing. Friends of mine, some of them smokers, were jokingly attributing to Eric stories about the smoking ban causing the economy to collapse, global warming, and the recent spate of mass shootings. It seems he’s gotten too close to the issue, and probably shouldn’t be covering the story any longer. He’s clearly as subjective as I am when it comes to the smoking ban. I would never purport to be objective on the matter, and clearly, Erye shouldn’t make that claim either.

All of the bogus statistics are just, pardon the phrase, smoke and mirrors. Sometimes you enact a law or a regulation because it is the right thing to do. It doesn’t matter if it has a short-term affect on the economy. This country took a major economic hit when slavery was abolished, but it was the right thing to do, and it was long overdue, just like a total ban on smoking in public is. Don’t try and hide behind some imagined constitutional right to smoke. There isn’t one. If anything, the constitution should be used to uphold the smoking ban. The rights of non-smokers to breathe clean air has to supersede the rights of addicts to pollute the indoor air.

I feel that anyone who wants to smoke should be able to do so, in the privacy of their own homes. Hell, legalize marijauna and tax it, too. Just don’t light up in public. That pot money would more than offset any loss of tax revenue from a dip in gambling. A lot of these uptight smokers would probably benefit from switching poisons. Look at the quality of their arguments and you can see they definitely need some mellowing out.

Is it really that horrible that fewer people are gambling? I mean, how messed up are our priorities when people are calling for a debate over whether restricting one vice is hurting the amount of money made on another?

There are certain undisputed facts about smoking that will eventually require an evolved, educated society to restrict its use in public.

Tobacco contains Nicotine, one of the most addictive substances on Earth. Using it legally can cause you to get addicted. Addiction is a mental illness. Second-hand smoke is a health risk, not only because of the obvious cancer-causing effects, but also due to the fact that breathing second-hand smoke can cause an addiction. Essentially, by allowing smoking in public, you are allowing the potential epidemic-like spread of mental illness. Let’s not forget that tobacco companies depend on recruiting young (many under-aged) people to smoke, to replace the smokers who die from using their products.

I’m not going to go into great detail about how smoking causes cancer, because that fact has been proved beyond a shadow of doubt by any scientist who isn’t on a tobacco company payroll. Smoking kills people. I’ve got the dead parents to prove it. One point that is rarely mentioned is how many folks take their first step toward a life of addiction to various substances by smoking. They say pot is a gateway drug, but almost every heroin addict or Oxycontin abuser is also a cigarette smoker. Most smokers start before they can legally buy cigarettes, so they get both the physical addiction and the disregard for the law from tobacco. Tobacco, it’s baby’s first substance to abuse!

On top of all that, smoking anything requires an open flame to start, followed by a smoldering ember. How is that safe? Even Blackhawks, the crappy little bar that’s trying to make a name for themselves by flaunting the law, caught fire and burned. The owner admitted that the smoking he allowed in his bar kept the patrons from noticing the flames.

So, if you support the idea of people running around with burning objects, leaving a path of cancer and mental illness in their wake while they risk getting children addicted to the ultimate “gateway drug,” then you believe that we need to “compromise” when it comes to the smoking ban.

The editorial in question uses the example of Nevada. Let me repeat that. The Gazette is suggesting that we follow the lead of Nevada, the state where prostitution is legal, when it comes to softening the smoking ban. I realize that, after the biscuit incident in the legislature, that prostitution seems almost legal here anyway, but come on! Nevada?

What brought about the Gazette editorial was the report that Kanawha County’s Board of Health has requested police escorts to accompany them on their inspections, due to some recent threats. It’s regrettable, but necessary. The regulations will have no effect if they are not enforced, and since enforcing the rules requires inspectors to come into contact with tobacco-crazed addicts, armed escorts are entirely appropriate. Further, they should also take along an agent from the Alcohol commission, so that a bar which is cited more than once, can have its liquor license pulled and be shut down on the spot for subsequent offenses.

When bars apply for their liquor licenses, they agree to abide by the rules and regulations of their governing health board. The smoking ban in Kanawha County is one of those rules. It’s no different from a bar maintaining a clean working space, clearly-marked fire exits, or making sure there are no rat feces in the ice cubes. A bar cannot pick and choose which regulations they observe.

The request by the Tri-State Racetrack and Casino to allow smoking is particularly disturbing. One of the selling points when they convinced county voters to allow them to add table games was that they didn’t mind the smoking ban one bit. They even said that they ran smoke-free casinos in other states that did terrific business. If they get to go back on their pledge to remain smoke-free, then I say that Kanawha County voters should get a second chance to vote on table games. The most egregious point with the casino is that it’s their own table games that have hurt the other gambling revenue in the county. Yet they want to blame the smoking ban and use the drop in revenue that table games caused to allow them to reverse course on smoking at their facility while blocking other bars from doing the same. That’s a level of gall and duplicity that’s admirable, even in all it’s evilness.

If the smoking ban in Kanawha County is repealed, then RFC might have to cut back to a monthly frequency. I will never again shoot video in a bar that allows smoking, and I doubt I will give any of them press here in PopCult. I would hate to do so, because since the ban went into effect The Empty Glass and The Blue Parrot have become some of my favorite places to catch live music, but I’m not getting any younger, and I can’t afford to make myself sick to promote a venue that tells me that my business is not as important as that of tobacco addicts.

To the Kanawha County Board of Health: Thank you, and please stick to your guns. At the very least, don’t repeal the ban without putting it to a vote by the public. The vast majority of us do not smoke, and the ban would win in a landslide.

What To Do, What To Do

There’s lots of cool things in town this weekend, and here’s a cursory glimpse:

“Norman Rockwell’s American Paradise” (see my review here) is playing at the WVSU Capitol Plaza Theater tonight and tomorrow at 8 PM.

Classic Mystery Tour with the WVSO is at the Clay Center tonight and tomorrow at 8 PM. It’s all Beatle-y and stuff. A spendid time is guaranteed for all.

The Blue Parrot has live music from Pavlov’s Dogs and Buckstone Friday, and The Brian Dingess Tribute on Saturday. Both shows start at 10 PM for five bucks.

On Friday The Empty Glass has Shayar and Krooshal Force, while they showcase Girls Guns & Glory on Saturday. Both shows kick off around ten with the usual EG sliding scale of potential cover charges (usually five bucks, sometimes a little more).Sunday you can hang out as The Carpenter Ants take the stage around 9:30.

Sam’s Uptown Cafe brings you Visions on Friday and Saturday at 10 PM with a four-dollar cover.

Sean Richardson will be performing for free at Taylor Books Saturday evening, 7:30 to 9:30.

Finally, Sunday, starting at 5 PM at the La Belle Theater in South Charleston, Jennifer Brooke Smith will be auditioning acts for a vaudville show that she has planned in May. I hope it’s a huge success and only the first of many, because I’ve got a prior committment on May 30, the night of the show. If you have an unusual act like juggling toasters or doing some Peruvian throat singing while your dog dances, come out for your chance at stardom. Check her website for more details.

The Bridal Shock

“The Bride And The Grooms,” Butch Maier’s independent romantic comedy, opens today at The Park Place Stadium Cinema, with a special reception before the 7:15 PM showing. Butch was gracious enough to let us show three different trailers for his film on Radio Free Charleston in recent weeks, and it’s a real kick to see this film play in a “real” cinema for a full week.

This is a quirky little comedy with lovely photography and great music. I haven’t seen more than the trailers yet, but I’ll be at one of the showings tonight, so I’ll let you know how the film turned out. One cool thing is that this is a low-budget, locally-shot film, but it’s not a horror movie. I don’t have anything against horror movies, but it seems that 90% of low-budget indie films are in that genre, “The Bride And The Grooms” will be a nice change of pace.

Cool Comic Of The Week: Tales Of The Beanworld

I sort of picked myself into a corner with this week’s choice for Cool Comic. Larry Marder’s “Tales Of The Beanworld” is one of the hardest comic books I’ve ever had to describe. It’s about the life cycle of these beans, see, and how they fit into and try to figure out their relationship with their world and ecosystem. The hero is Mr. Spook. He pals around with Professor Garbanzo, and….maybe you should just check out this site.

It’s either the goofiest philosophy comic in existence, or the most philosophical goofy comic. Sometimes the adventures of the beans as they dive into the sea in search of chow seem like deep parables, and sometimes they seem like, well, stories about little bean people doing silly stuff.

Originally published in the 1980s and early 90s, before Marder took a couple of decades to help steer Todd McFarlane’s comic book and toy empire, “Tales Of The Beanworld” is bean reprinted in two nifty hardback volumes from Dark Horse Comics, and Marder is producing the first new tales in over twenty years. Catch up with Beanworld. It’s unlike any other comic book you’ll read.

Next Week In PopCult

The long-threatened Johnny West article is still on its way, as is our Sunday Evening Video and Monday Morning Art (and thanks again to Karen Allen for filling in with MMA this week). We’ll also have production notes for RFC 68, which will be the fifth episode of the show in April, and we’ll come up with some other crap to keep you occupied when you’re supposed to be working. Just bookmark us and keep coming back. And don’t forget to watch RFC 67, with Young Bradley Wilkerson.


  1. Bella Dona

    I don’t know what makes me madder–those who were opposed to the idea of posting food information in restaurants, or the petulant, whining, smokers crying about their “right” to smoke.

    Well, their right to smoke ends where the non-smoker’s right to clean air begins.

    And to all those who b**** about so called “nanny government”, just remember–if there were no public health agencies, you’d be equally unhappy when no one was around to make sure that the food you buy in a store or restaurant is safe to eat or that your water is safe to drink. Or that you’d have the opportunity to seek medical treatment or get a flu shot from your local health department.

    *steps down from soapbox*

    That being said, go see the CYAC show. I saw it last weekend after seeing the clip on Radio Free Charleston. It’s a great show and you’ll kick your own butt if you miss out on it! Nice to see a local theatre group doing original material instead of dragging the same ‘ol shows outta the mothballs.

  2. BHunt

    If I’m a licensed, taxpaying bar owner, it should be MY decision, not that of the county, whether I should allow my patrons to partake in a LEGAL vice in my establishment. I’ll hear your shrill protestations (overblown comparisons to emancipation and women’s suffrage notwithstanding, to even suggest those as parallels is about as dignified as a 4-year-old) when smoking is declared illegal by the Powers That Be. Until then, much as said business owner should be afforded the right to allow his or her patrons to partake of a perfectly legal vice in their establishment that, let’s face it, caters to Adult Vices, you and anyone else who becomes “violently ill” in the face of secondhand smoke (and you even qualified that sentence with “really” because to suggest “violently ill” as a common response is also so much smoke) may likewise exercise your right to not frequent that establishment.

  3. Nicool

    While I am happy as you are about the smoking ban -happy, happy, happy – (and I’m a social smoker! I just hate uber smoky bars and don’t like to molest others w/ its nastiness) – and agree: folks can finally see live music sans walking into a building-sized smoked-filled ashtray, a-la what was once the EG — the Carpet (eeww!) – and you are right about all the health stuff, blah, blah, others right to clean air, blah, blah..There is one point you miss from a civil libertarian view mayhaps: and that is the right of a privately owned business to run their business as they see fit. Look, I’m a fan – so don’t jump me on this one – I’m just wondering: isn’t that at issue? Music venues aside – (I would say, bc being able to see acts sans this air-insult is different) – if a bar wants to open specifically – very specifically – and call itself “The Full Ashtray – come in and take a deep choking breath and light up”- should they not be able? This is not rhetorical; again, on your side, really. I couldn’t BE anymore happy about the smoking ban & will not only be VERY UNhappy if it goes away or is compromised, but will, too, end up going to the non-smoking hangouts again w/ my friends so I don’t have to disrobe outside my house, leave my stinky clothes on the carport and hit the showers before bed as I once did after hitting the Glass. (seriously) But again, if someone wants to very specifically “draw in the smoker crowd” if you will – and the people working there all smoke and consent whole heartedly, shouldn’t they by law be able make that choice? And you I can go nowhere NEAR it. Again, not rhetorical – on your side. Just putting it out there.

  4. Elvis Capone

    Ha, ha. BEAN WORLD. I like to eat beans without chewing. Later, using my vast muscle control, I expel them, slowly, one at a time. Splash. Splash. Splash. Etc.

  5. Joey Fabulous

    Preach it brother! Smoking sucks.

  6. Rudy Panucci

    B and Nicool–

    First, thanks for taking the time to respond.

    I do feel that both of your are missing a major point–if you are a licensed bar owner, part of the terms of keeping that license is agreeing to abide by the laws and regulations governing your business, particularly those of the health department.

    Bar owners ignored the heavily-publicized public hearings concerning the smoking ban when it was merely a proposal. They missed their chance to object before it became the law of the land. Now it’s a health regulation, and to operate lawfully, bar owners must respect it.

    As for smoking being a legal activity…it is legal, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t able to be restricted. It’s legal to shoot a firearm. To follow the letter of the law you have to do it at a firing range, or during hunting season, but it is a legal activity. There are sensible regulations that make it illegal to shoot a firearm in the wrong place, like in church, or at school.

    Likewise, the law of the land now is that smoking is not permitted at almost any indoor public place. That includes bars. This became law by the same process that food inspections at restaurants became law. There is a solid constitutional mechanism in place for it, and that process was followed to a “T.”

    Suggesting that the non-smoking 70% of the population of this state be deprived of the right to enter a public place without putting their health at risk is simply childish and selfish. It’s the reason that much of my piece was written in such a tongue–in-cheek histrionic tone. I was mocking the grand libertarian protestations of people who think they’re entitled to smoke where ever they please–the rest of us be damned. It isn’t a rights issue. It’s a matter of health.

    If you’re going to be silly enough to argue that a business owner should be free to allow any activity that is legal anywhere to take place in their establishment, regardless of other laws that govern the same issues, then I can’t really deal with you and keep a straight face.

    Oral sex is legal, but any bar that allowed its patrons to indulge in that legal behavior would be shut down almost instantly. 

    There is a loophole, one that I don’t think should be closed. If a business earns 80% of their revenue from tobacco sales, like The Squire, for instance, then they can allow smoking inside.

    I’m fine with that. I think that smoking bars are the wave of the future. But I don’t think they should change the percentage.  If you want to allow smoking in your establishment, then that’s all you should do. Hell, open a smoking bar next door to your drinking bar. Just make sure they are in separate buildings with separate entrances and that no open container laws are violated.  It would keep the smokers off the streets.  I don’t want smokers banished from the entire world. I just want their smoke to be someplace away from me. They have spent my lifetime demonstrating that the simple courtesy of not smoking around people who don’t wish to breathe tobaco smoke is behavior that must be compelled by law.

    One question I didn’t ask: Is it really a good idea to let people smoke around highly flammable liquids?  I always wondered about that.

  7. libco

    Actually Rudy I went to many of the hearings as did many bar owners, including one that was rescheduled BEFORE it was supposed to be (almost a week before) and was NOT advertised. I just happened to be walking by the Board of Ed and saw the sign and was able to call people. And besides you (and Mel of course)-the people who claimed that if only smoking would be banned they would start coming out to the Glass-haven’t seen them.

  8. Mountain Woman Phd.

    It’s good to see you writing more in-depth pieces again. I have to say, the smoking ban is a godsend. Smokers need to realize that smoking is something that should not be done in public. It’s a legal product, but it’s not legal to use anywhere you please.

    And what are your thoughts on “The Bride And The Grooms?” Is it worth going to see?

  9. Longtime Listener

    I’m going out to the Glass for the first time in years. It’s nice to see some of the same old faces, without the smoky haze in front of them.

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