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Dave Roepke, Published December 04 2008

Things change as smoke clears

Fargo’s smoking ban began about six months ago, and the dust has settled predictably.

It’s been an absolute killer only in limited cases – sorry, JT Cigarro. Other places may be hurting, but the ban hasn’t driven off any drink dealers yet. And as a smoker, I must admit, it didn’t ruin bar-going as much as I expected. You learn to manage.

Still, the air quality isn’t all that has changed. Banishing smokers from their bar stools has bred, like most policies do, unintended consequences. Here are four I’ve noticed:

1. Lots of joints have put up smoking shelters or filed for building permits to do so. But plenty more send smokers out to the curb to do their puffing.

In downtown Fargo, this makes walking down the sidewalk along Broadway on a weekend night much more, um, interactive. With well-soused crews of cig-suckers milling about in front of no-shelter bars, you can get all the outdoor chaos of closing time any point after 9 p.m.

2. At least at my favorite watering hole, which does have a little fenced-in area for the cancer-stick crowd, the smoking ban has essentially created a second last call.

Because the principles of late-night barfly removal dictate starting at the edges and working toward the center – sort of like herding cattle, if the beef in question had wobbly legs and an insistence on discussing the nature of life – the shelter is the first area cleared out.

For the type that tips until 2 a.m., this means watching the clock on two accounts: for the point at which you can get a final round of drinks and the point at which you can get a final round of smokes.

3. Maybe this is just me, but shooting pool got harder.

Pool has been my favorite bar activity ever since I first stepped inside one, and I’ve had a smoke dangling from my lips almost that entire time.

For me, shooting pool was far more connected to smoking than drinking. There may be better everyday ego boosts than stalking a table with a ciggie blazing draining shots, but it’s my favorite.

Taking away the cigarettes soured the apparently delicate combo. It’s not easy to have a steady hand and a clear head while jonesing for the next nicotine fix. Thinking it was psychosomatic, I tried shooting with an unlit one clamped in my mouth. The only difference was I looked stupider.

4. The ban has prodded me to think seriously about quitting, as bars were my last refuge of indoor inhalation. Smoking is now a no-go in my work office, my home and my favorite recreational areas. I’m an outcast at every turn.

Surely this has affected others the same, which makes me think the ban could lead to big gains in quit rates. Not because of the influence the law has on any one individual but because of the interconnectedness of the nasty habit.

A long-term study released earlier this year showed that smokers frequently quit in groups. Even when someone in your social network who you don’t know quits, it betters your odds of hanging up the hacking. Which means the smoke-free air at bars – where social circles tend to gather – could help the smokers who collect there quit all together.

At least I hope that’s how it will work. It’s getting too cold to step out every hour or so.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Roepke at (701) 241-5535

or droepke@forumcomm.com