Last drag 

Once the statewide smoking ban goes into effect Oct. 1, a large part of Montana's bar culture will, for better or worse, go up in smoke

It's hard to defend smokers anymore. Mountains of medical evidence confirm that cigarette smoke destroys your lungs and leads to a laundry list of other ailments. Second-hand smoke proves just as dangerous. For years, federal and state governments sensed an easy and defensible target, and imposed heavy restrictions on the price and availability of cigarettes, as well as where you can smoke them. Just this week, Uncle Sam even banned cloves, or flavored cigarettes, entirely.

Montana finally catches up with the national piling on this week. The Montana Clean Indoor Air Act, which was drafted during the 2005 Legislature, allowed bars and casinos to gradually transition to smoke-free over the last four years. That buffer period officially ends Oct. 1.

When that last cigarette butt gets snuffed out inside a Montana tavern next Wednesday night, a certain iconic imagery will go out along with it. No more literary references to smoky barrooms. No more killing time on the barstool, alone, with the aide of a cigarette. No more hippies able to sneak a few tokes of weed under the cloud of tobacco smoke.

There are a million reasons to cheer the ban, but still a few reasons to lament its arrival. With that, we sent five writers to some of the last remaining smoker-friendly havens for one last drag.

Small-town bars fear the brunt of the ban

Out at Harold's Club in Milltown, talk of the smoking ban lingers at the bar about as long as a shot of Don Julio. Those with fresh-cracked packs of cigarettes next to their Budweiser coasters don't seem bothered at first, either out of indifference or insecurity.

The bartender, Jenni Regan, passes me a pack of Marlboro Reds and a Pabst. I burn through a smoke and slide down the bar to join a few chuckling locals. The group acknowledges the ban sporadically, breaking up any serious commentary with discussion of the latest social goings-on.

"Most guys won't want to step outside for it," says Regan, who recently returned to tending bar after maternity leave. "[Management's] talked about putting in a fire pit. That'll be cute— bunch of guys standing around a fire out back smoking."

Harold's boasts a friendliness and intimacy just shy of an episode of Cheers. You could count the number of one-time or impulse drop-ins on two hands and still find your thumbs dangling.

Regulars will feel the ban worst, everyone agrees. Smoking stands out as an almost sacred practice here–the Harold's Club MySpace page boasts, "Yes you can still smoke inside!!!" The bar's signature decorations show a mounted goat and a bighorn sheep protected by giant plastic bubbles, placed there to protect the taxidermy from the smoke.

Will the bubbles disappear come October, I ask, lighting up another.

"Probably not," Regan says as she cracks another line of Bud Lights for the corner boys. "Just in case the thing doesn't last."

Repeal is a desperate wish for locals accustomed to the nub of a filter between their knuckles. In other words, most of Harold's customer base holds out hope of an 11th-hour reprieve.

"Les comes in every Friday night and just sits back there and smokes, one after the other," says Mary Pat, who everyone knows as just Mary Pat. "I've never seen a guy make that much ash."

Thing is, the bars in downtown Missoula likely won't be hit as bad, Regan suggests. They can fall back on non-regulars, the throngs that pop in every weekend regardless of the smoking ban. Harold's clientele is different.

Take Joel Smith, who regards the presence of a foreign smoker next to him with muted skepticism. Mention of the ban generates a subtle twitch.

"I don't have to drink beer here," Smith whispers.

And therein lies the rub for smaller taverns like Harold's. The ban could, as Regan fears, keep loyal patrons from crossing the threshold.

The reaction is a little less dire at the Lumberjack Saloon off Highway 12. The place is vacant when I walk in mid-afternoon on a recent Thursday. Anna Tripp assures me from behind the bar that I just caught them on the slowest day she's seen this summer. There's usually a line of faces puffing away. And the ban?

"Honestly, I don't think it'll hurt all that much," Tripp says.

The Jack, as it's more commonly known, draws campers, hunters and big crowds for weekend musical gigs.

"We've got a really nice patio," explains Tripp, "and we've got a huge bonfire pit."

John Van Ackeren joins in the conversation after placing a food order. I pass him a cigarette and he justifies his camo pants by telling me he's been elk hunting all day. A few bugles, he says, but no sightings.

Ackeren lives in Salt Lake City now, flipping a foreclosure house he bought earlier this year. But he called Missoula home for 10 years and even worked a stint at the Jack–one of his choice bars when he jets back for hunting season. He's a social smoker, he says, so his personal stock in the ban is far from heated.

"I guarantee it'll cut my smoking down," he says.

Tripp pours a second round as we discuss the more obvious benefits of the statewide policy: less stink on your clothes, more tolerable hangovers. But Ackeren gets stuck on the other side of the issue.

"You know, it's one thing to have regulations and such," he says. "But on the other hand, it's somebody's bar and they really should be able to run their own business how they want."

Sure, the Jack–like Harold's or most other outlying bars near Missoula–might see a few regulars a little less often, Tripp admits. But most will likely adapt to new strictures fast. If that doesn't work, there's always the sign above the Jack's bar to fall back on: "No Whining."

—Alex Sakariassen

The morning debate at Charlie B's

George Daly sips a whisky and water on ice and pulls a yellow box of Top menthol from his pocket.

"I think it will suck, personally," he says of the statewide smoking ban. "It deprives me of life, liberty and happiness—all that crap."

It's half-past 10 on a Tuesday morning at Charlie B's, and tendrils of cigarette smoke form a wispy cloud over about a dozen patrons, none of them appearing younger than 50. As the cloud forms into an insulating and pungent gray blanket, Daly, a 30-year Charlie's regular, says he can't smell it.

"Do you?" he asks.

The retired construction worker, Navy man and former Flipper's Casino barkeep ticks off the names of just about every patron perched along the bar this morning, the majority armed with a pack of tobacco. Among Missoula's many bars and casinos, locals associate Charlie's with the smoking crowd more than any other. And Daly echoes the sentiment of many Charlie's regulars when he wonders why, with plenty of non-smoking establishments available, must the government have to mess with his spot?

"If you want to go somewhere smoke-free, you should," he says. "But it's not here."

Nine of 10 doctors recommended Camels when Daly started smoking 45 years ago. Looking down at his cigarette-rolling machine, he coughs and says he's given up quitting. "It's not going to happen."

Daly doesn't have much time for arguments for the ban. Second-hand smoke? Daly says bartenders make good money and "every occupation has some environmental risks."

click to enlarge PHOTOS BY ANNE MEDLEY

That's enough to get Twilly Cannon, sitting at a table across from the bar, involved in the conversation.

"George, you're full of shit," he says.

Cannon, a newspaper-reading, cigarette-smoking regular, argues that everyone deserves a healthy workplace. "Smoking is not a right, like George says," he adds.

Meanwhile, 14-year Charlie's veteran Julie Leriget, sits on the floor writing lunch specials on a whiteboard.

"I think I've smoked several packs of cigarettes without having one touch my lips," Leriget says, shrugging her shoulders.

Cannon also points out the unintended positives of the ban, like the newly dubbed social phenomenon, "smurting." That's when a woman steps outside to smoke and is followed by a suitor. They share a quiet moment, smoke and flirt, or "smurt."

"I've seen it in practice," Cannon says.

Daly shrugs at the idea, orders another drink and gets back to his point. Non-smokers are pushing an agenda, he says. Public outdoor spaces are next.

And he's right. Just this week, anti-tobacco advocates at Montana State University announced a push to make the Bozeman campus entirely smoke and chew free. Montana Tech in Butte is slated to ban tobacco next year.

Across the country, 429 municipalities have limited smoking in outdoor public places, including parks and ball fields, according to the nonprofit Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights. In San Francisco, those caught smoking in a city park are subject to a $100 fine.

"They might as well just shoot us," Daly says. "We're social pariahs."

And so, the guys at Charlie's toss around ways to skirt the rules, like parking a school bus on North Higgins Avenue to use as a smoking lounge. That idea gets 77-year-old B.J. Berjensky to grin as he sips his beer.

"What I like about it, is it pisses people off," he says."If they ban girls, then I have a problem."

—Jessica Mayrer

Angst and apprehension at the Golden Rose

The neon lights inside the Golden Rose on West Broadway glow red like the tip of a lit cigarette—and inside the Golden Rose, there are a lot of lit cigarettes.

On one Wednesday at around 9 p.m., the bar hosts more than 20 revelers, all of them stationed at red booths or perched at the bar. The jukebox plays Metallica's "Enter Sandman" and then shifts to the disco new wave of MGMT. It's a decidedly younger crowd than one would find at Charlie B's or the Union Club, but just as hearty. This is where the twentysomething kids of old-school barflies hang out, or so it seems.

"Not everybody agrees with the bar scene," says University of Montana student Heather Rasley, a Rose regular. "Not everybody agrees with drinking and smoking, but it's some people's lives. It's free will, according to me. It's a personal choice and to take that away is sort of fucked up."

Rose bartender Claude Alick stands with a half-smile listening to Rasley. Alick doesn't smoke, though he gets plenty of it secondhand.

"Nobody's gonna take it away from you," he says, ribbing her. "You just have to go outside and smoke. You still have your rights."

Two muted television screens flicker on either side of the bar, one showing "Ghost Hunters" and the other Aliens. It's a crowd where there are more tattoos and piercings than not, where conversation bounces from the plotlines of "Lost" and "True Blood" to religion and politics. This is where young rockers huddle, smoking their cigarettes between sets at the connected (and smoke-free) Badlander or Palace Lounge. The Rose is a place where, above all, cigarettes and youth seem to be the most common threads, and the ban has threatened to alter the bond.

"I'm just wondering where it's going to go from here," says Rasley. "Are the smokers going to get exiled from public space altogether?"

More people might come out to bars in a non-smoking environment, she says, which is a good thing. And hardcore smokers like herself will go outside and suffer through the weather. But where will it go from there?

"It'll become a whole industry," Alick says, handing her another Pabst from behind the bar. "There will be a booth outside, right? You walk into the booth and smoke your cigarette and then the booth shoots the cigarette smoke up into the atmosphere. A whole industry."

Allick grins at her and she laughs and rolls her eyes.

"That's fine," she says, "but there needs to be a balance. If we can't smoke in a bar we should be able to take our drinks out, within a finite range within the entry of a bar—the back or the front—and be able to drink our drinks."

As she lights another cigarette she nods and says, "I'm okay with the ban. It's what it is. I'm just wondering how far it's going to go."

—Erika Fredrickson

Seeking solace on the rez

Mention of Montana's imminent smoking ban evokes little more than a shrug inside the Gray Wolf Peak Casino north of Evaro. One woman with a couple packs of Marlboros stacked on a wad of one-dollar bills is barely willing to turn away from her ringing, dinging machine. The first employee I talk to isn't aware of the ban at all. Nor should he be, considering that the ban doesn't even apply here on the Flathead Indian Reservation.

But it's not that simple, it turns out. How, exactly, the ban is applied on reservations in Montana is as cloudy as Gray Wolf Peak's smoky lounge. Because the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT) and their members own only about 62 percent of the reservation's 1.3 million acres, the question of where the ban holds sway has even tribal leaders and state attorneys digging into the fine print. More than that, though, the question touches on sensitive and complex issues of tribal sovereignty, which seem to have made the state hesitant to test the limits of the law's influence.

"A lot of people are unsure how this works, and the flow of information is hard to trace," says CSKT Communications Director Robert McDonald.

This much is clear: The smoking ban will not apply to tribally owned bars, restaurants and casinos. On the Flathead Indian Reservation, that includes the Gray Wolf Peak Casino and Best Western KwaTaqNuk Resort in Polson. (The tribe has passed its own smoking ban inside some other public spaces.) The ban will apply to non-tribal members on the reservation who own and operate such establishments.

Less clear is how the law applies to establishments owned by tribal members, like the Silver Dollar in St. Ignatius. For it and others, the ban will not be "pursued," according to state attorneys and officials with the Department of Public Health & Humman Services (DPHHS), an approach that avoids the legal can of worms any pursuit would surely crack open. Calls to the Silver Dollar were not returned.

Of course, the tribes can implement their own smoking ban that would mirror the state law, something the tribal council is batting around.

"I know with authority that there has been some discussion internally in our health department about this statewide ban, and the fact that the tribes have the option to adopt their own ban if they so chose," says McDonald. "But that has not been brought forward to council at this point. It's likely that may happen, depending on the flow of other issues and whatnot. It's definitely been on their minds, especially with regard to the anti-smoking efforts of the health department. But ultimately it's the council's decision."

From a health perspective, the tribes would seem to have very good reason to implement a ban. According to the 2008 Montana Adult Tobacco Use Survey, the prevalence of smoking among American Indians was roughly four times that of white Americans—55 percent versus 14 percent, respectively. Furthermore, DPHHS's most recent survey of tobacco use and attitudes among American Indians in Montana found that more than two thirds believed smoking should not be allowed in restaurants and other indoor public places.

But health implications are balanced by cultural ones, which complicate anti-tobacco efforts on reservations, not to mention the debate over an outright ban.

"Tobacco prevention specialists on reservations...certainly understand the toxic nature of second-hand smoke, but they're up against something very, very powerful, and that is the historical, traditional and sacred use of tobacco," says Linda Lee, supervisor of the Montana Tobacco Use Prevention Program. "They have to always be very, very sensitive with any of their teachings or any of their educational pieces when they talk about it, because what has happened is that tobacco, from a sacred perspective, has become enmeshed with commercial tobacco. And so they have a very difficult job to try to start separating that out."

For now, issues of sovereignty and health aside, it would appear Montana's smoking ban could be a boon for the handful of bars and casinos on the Flathead Indian Reservation where patrons can still light up after Oct. 1. But, when asked if he expects a boost in business, McDonald says he wouldn't bet on it.

"It's still a long ways to get here," he says. "There are people who will drive 15 minutes from Missoula to take a shot at winning $500,000 on a 90 cent bet in Evaro, and there are people willing to take a weekend trip and drive 90 minutes to Polson from Missoula to sleep by the lake and gamble on the Class 2 machines that pay out progressive. But it's still a ways."

Whatever the implications of the state smoking ban for the reservation, they're certainly not on the minds of those hunkered down at the Gray Wolf Peak Casino, where even an older woman who says she has severe allergies endures the thick smoke for a shot at quick cash.

"I should stay away from here," she says as she slips a crisp twenty into the machine. "It would be nice if it was smoke-free."

—Matthew Frank

Last man standing

If the statewide smoking ban is the Alamo, then Darrell Keck, owner of the Dixie Inn in Shelby, would be considered Davy Crockett. Four years after the 2005 Legislature worked with the Montana Taverns Association (MTA) to negotiate the Montana Clean Indoor Air Act—and include a four-year grace period for bars and casinos to comply—Keck attempted to reverse the law.

The 25-year owner of the roadside lounge, casino and supper club—and former president of the MTA—asked his state senator to introduce a bill that would continue to exempt drinking establishments. The MTA went berserk and lambasted Keck in public meetings. Anti-smoking groups screamed foul. Legislators said they'd firmly stand their ground. The bill, ultimately, was never introduced.

Come Oct. 1, Keck says the Dixie Inn will go smoke free. But he's not happy about it. We caught Keck in Missoula, where he was attending the MTA's annual convention. He sat on the porch of his non-smoking hotel room, taking puffs of a Marlboro Red.

Indy: Why are you against the ban?

Keck: I have a large base of smokers—some would say as much as 70 percent—with a lot of truckers that stop in and some locals. It fits my business. There is room for both types of establishments in Montana. It's not a health issue. It's a property rights issue. They're telling us how to run our business. The study that the doctors did in Helena [to help support the statewide ban in 2005] is totally bogus and full of half-truths. I had hoped to introduce the bill and have some of that come out through testimony, but it just didn't happen.

Indy: You attempted something of a last stand during the last legislative session. Did you think you'd win?

Keck: I thought we could win. Once some of the issues were brought up, I thought we'd change opinions in the Legislature. But my sponsor decided not to introduce it, and we didn't get the chance.

We didn't get much publicity because we're just little, independent business people. We don't have the money. The proponents of this bill were all funded by a large New York foundation [the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation] and they didn't have to raise any money. The out-of-state money came in and the little independent businesses couldn't compete in an open boxing match, so to speak. And, frankly, it's not a last stand. Not yet...We could always sue 'em, if we ever got the money. But right now the out-of-state do-gooders just have us over a barrel.

Indy: What do you mean when you say this is a property rights issue?

Keck: Back in the English rule, if a king wanted a piece of your land to go hunting on, he just confiscated it. That's essentially what they're doing. I own my building. I own my land. I know my business. I don't expect everybody to offer smoking and I don't care if the people who don't like it don't come into my place. That's fine. They have a choice and all I want is the same choice.

Indy: You made the MTA pretty mad when you fought the existing agreement this year. How do things stand now?

Keck: We're friends, win, lose or draw. Some weren't happy, that's true. That's why they make different colors of paint. People disagree. You never paint everything white.

Indy: So, will the Dixie Inn comply with the ban come Oct. 1?

Keck: I spent $18,000 three years ago to make my dining room smoke-free and complied totally with the exemption on my bar area. We'll comply again.

Indy: Have you made any changes to accommodate the smokers?

Keck: We don't even know what the rules are yet. I have a patio, but I haven't used it in 25 years and I don't intend to activate it.

Indy: Do you think it'll hurt business?

Keck: It's going to hurt my business drastically, I think. I don't know how long it will last. Some places bounce back, some don't. Atlantic City casinos went smoke free [in 2007] and, after a year, it hurt their business so badly that they went back and petitioned to allow smoking. They got it. I think it will hurt gaming revenues for the state, that's for sure. But how long will it last? That I don't know. That'd just be a prediction.

Indy: I've never been to the Dixie Inn. What's the drink of choice there?

Keck: The drink of choice? Just beer.

—Skylar Browning

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