2013 Feb 23 No Ifs, No Butts: Are No-Smoking Bars on the Rise?
Beijing bars and clubs are filled with smokers. So what’s a non-smoking carouser to do? You’ve normally got two choices: you either moan about it loudly, theatrically waving your arms and ultimately wasting your night scowling at smokers, or you suck it up – quite literally. Smokers be smoking, and there’s little you can do to stop it, especially on a night out.
China is home to a third of the world’s smokers, but when those 300 million people light up regularly, up to 740 million people are regularly exposed to secondhand smoke. While there has been an indoor public smoking ban in place since May 2011, a lack of enforcement means secondhand smoke continues to be a part of everyday life for Beijingers.
Some of the city’s bars have adopted smoke-free areas. For example, both Brussels and Stumble Inn have non-smoking zones located on their second floors. However, studies have shown that air quality in bars with designated smoking zones is as bad in the non-smoking areas as it is in areas where smoking is permitted.
Slowly but surely, though, an increasing number of establishments are choosing to go smoke-free. There are a few places in town where the proprietors dislike smoking as much as your average non-smoker, and have nipped it in the butt.
We went and smoked all over this town in an effort to discover where we’d be asked to stub it out.
Proprietor Badr Benjelloun says despite being a smoker himself, he decided to go smoke-free at Cu Ju to improve the atmosphere for diners in his bar. “The locale is not big and we do serve food,” says Benjelloun. “I feel that diners shouldn’t have to deal with smoke being blown their way when they’re munching on their sandwiches or tagines. It’s easy enough to step outside and have a quick one.”
Slow Boat Brewery Taproom
Chandler Jurinka, the man behind the new Slow Boat Brewery Taproom on Dongsi Batiao tells us he chose to go no-smoking mainly because he has two pregnant women working in the bar regularly, but also because the city’s air can be toxic enough without it being concentrated in a small enclosed space.
Great Leap Brewing
Perhaps it’s testament to the virility of the average Beijing microbrewer, but Great Leap supremo Carl Setzer also initially implemented a no-smoking policy at Great Leap Brewing because his wife was pregnant when they opened the venue. However, the policy received such positive feedback from his regulars that he never amended the rule. With plans to open a new, bigger space in the Sanlitun neighborhood, Setzer recognizes he may struggle to stick to his smokeless guns in Great Leap 2.0. Nevertheless, he is designing the new taproom with non-smokers in mind.
Mao Mao Chong
Stephen and Stephanie Rocard initially opted to go no smoking as they didn’t want to fork out for expensive ventilation equipment. “If you get three or four people smoking in there, you could almost cut the air with a knife,” says Stephen. But now they’re glad to offer parents and their little ones a smoke-free atmosphere in which to enjoy their homemade dishes. “We get customers who come in with their kids because we’re non-smoking. They wouldn’t come in otherwise.”
On January 1 of this year, Trevor Metz made Plan B a non-smoking zone; it was prompted by the sudden and tragic loss of one of his regulars late last year.
“I decided to go smoke-free after the death of my friend. He had aggressive lung cancer that spread to his brain. The night he slipped into a coma, he was sat at the end of the bar complaining about a headache that wouldn’t go away. He had no idea he had cancer and his death affected us very deeply. Beijing has brutal air quality anyway, so I came to the realization I was putting the safety of my staff and myself at risk.”
Tim’s Texas Bar-B-Q
Tim’s went no-smoking back in April 2011 when the government enacted the doomed indoor smoking ban. The ban fell by the wayside in most bars shortly afterwards, but Tim noticed his customers enjoying the smoke-free atmosphere: “Smoking patrons do complain when they have to go and smoke out in the cold, but by and large people stay longer and they eat and drink more.”
Krishna Hathaway says the decision to go no-smoking in the Hidden City complex was mainly an oenological matter. “We wanted to be taken seriously as a wine bar,” says Hathaway. “I’d been to enough decent wine bars in Beijing and noticed people complaining about smoking. Half of the wine experience is in the aroma and it can be difficult to appreciate that when someone nearby is smoking.”
GETTING TOUGH ON TOBACCO
Last year, the Beijing Patriotic Health Campaign Committee recruited around 1,200 volunteers to ensure broader supervision and dissuade people from smoking in public areas. In addition, lawmakers have pledged to get tough on public smokers and are considering the country’s first national tobacco control law. The central government has pledged to introduce a nationwide public smoking ban before 2015 with the target of cutting China’s number of smokers down to 25 percent, about the same rate as the United States.
- In a recent survey, over 80 percent of 377 Beijing restaurants admitted they have tried to use loopholes to avoid the ban.
- 60% of Chinese men smoke, compared to just 4.2% of women.
- Over one million people die from smokingrelated diseases every year in China.
- The tobacco industry accounts for 20 million jobs in China and contributed 6 per cent of the country’s fiscal revenues in 2010.
- Cigarette production and consumption in China increased by three percent last year, while consumption in the rest of the world has declined steadily since 2000.
This article originally appeared on page 30 in the February issue of the Beijinger.