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

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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."

click to enlarge PHOTO BY ANNE MEDLEY

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.

click to enlarge PHOTO BY ANNE MEDLEY

"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."

click to enlarge PHOTO BY ANNE MEDLEY

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

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