Today, March 8th, 2011 is a special day for two reasons. It is the International Women’s Day, a special event that has been observed since the 1900's. It is a day to celebrate the achievements and advancement of women the world over, as they exercise greater rights and self-determination, mainly as a result of greater economic potential.
This year, March 9th will also be the day that the City of L.A. extends smoking bans to outdoor patios and spaces surrounding restaurants. One young woman, Juliette Tworsey, a talented singer who also, as so many do, makes ends meet by working in the hospitality industry, explains what this means in real terms. She explains how these bans affect her aspirations, and her livelihood. She does not address the issue as an economist or as a political scientist, although she is fully familiar with those respective approaches. She relates to us, on a personal level, how the smoking bans affect her and her entourage. Her message is clear and sound, and needs to be heard because she speaks from the heart, and she speaks for many.
FROM THE HEART
My personal experience with the Smoking Bans
As a songwriter, performer, and hospitality worker that has worked consistently in one form or another for many years in bars, restaurants and concert venues, I can from my personal observations and experiences say that smoking bans and the war on smokers in general have detrimental effects on my personal life, my social life, and my ability to prosper and make a living.
The economic and social effects
Before coming to Los Angeles from my hometown Chicago with my band, finding extra work in the hospitality business had never been an issue, as there was always something available in what has always been well known as being an industry with high turnover rates, especially in venues with a demographic that’s largely comprised of transient students, artists, musicians, authors, and working class folks who often live from paycheck to paycheck.
After moving to Los Angeles in the early 2000's (note, this is long before the advent of our current recession), one of the first things that I noticed was the difficulty in finding a service or bartending job. Granted, Los Angeles is a town that is subject to a constant onslaught of young people moving into town from all over the country looking for work in the entertainment industry, along with immigrants from all over the world looking for work; hence, there is a high demand for work. However, keep in mind that both the service and the entertainment industries have high turnover rates; therefore, this fact alone does not explain the lack of jobs in these fields. One thing that comes to mind is the state smoking ban that came into effect in the late 90s.
Upon the observation of countless numbers of smokers standing outside of establishments, especially those restaurants, bars and venues that were not equipped wit the money or space to retrofit their establishments with smoking patios, the realization came to me that many folks were just not hanging out as long or spending as much as they used to. When people don’t hang out as long or spend as much there are going to be social and economic consequences. I have witnessed, time and time again, a mass exodus from live music venues as soon as a band hits its last chord. Often the fans and friends of any already known act do not return to the club to check out the next new and unknown act. This was not my experience as a performer in what was then a smoke-ban-free Chicago.
Blanket smoking bans and over-regulation have the unfortunate consequence of making it even more difficult for a new act to acquire the much needed exposure that it needs by adversely affecting the prospects of future bookings, due to the fact that many clubs now demand that an act have a pre-existing audience so that the club may insure that it makes enough money to cover its overhead costs without having to lay off bartenders and waitresses. It has never been so difficult. Again, these difficulties were apparent before, not after the current recession. Now it has only gotten worse. This leads me to my next point….
When one sector of the hospitality or industry is hurting, a domino effect is set into motion. It is so hard to find a bartending job here now, that some have even said that in order to get a job here, someone needs to either move out of town or die in order for there to be an opening. That’s not a joke, I’ve really been told that, and I do have a resumé. Another unintended consequence of smoking bans has been the disappearance of the neighborhood bar. There are a few to be sure, mostly in affluent neighborhoods, but largely the establishments that once accommodated many in the working class, as well as students and starving artists have gone by way of the dinosaurs. These neighborhood bars also once served as springboards for aspiring bartenders and musicians trying to get their foot in the door, as well as important social breeding grounds for many folks who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford to go out.
No one, save for a lucky few, starts at the top of any business. This lack of work in bars and music venues leads to more demand for jobs in the restaurant sector, making it more difficult to find work there as well. Many restaurants (up until now) managed to survive California’s indoor ban by retrofitting their establishments by building outdoor patios as a way of keeping their smoking patrons. This was a semi-workable situation, due to California’s temperate climate, along with the use of outdoor heating devices in the winter and tent/overhangs in the rainy season, though I have to admit that I, along with many of my smoking friends, have not been regular patrons to any facility that does not at least provide some sort of hospitable place for its smoking customers. That is how it has been up until now.
The city of Los Angeles is currently about to introduce a comprehensive smoking ban of its own that supersedes the California smoke-free act as of this Tuesday, March 8th, 2011. This new ban will now extend to all outdoor spaces of restaurants, coffee shops within the entire city limits. The patios that so many restaurants, bar/restaurants, and coffee houses built to accommodate their smoking customers is now being taken away from them against their will. It shouldn’t be a hard sell in convincing non-believers that this is going to be yet another blow to the hospitality industry, its workers, and those looking for work within the industry. Smokers are indeed a part of the overall economy and the hospitality industry in particular, is one industry which cannot be outsourced. I know from personal experience, as I am yet again on the search for work. Many places are already not doing so well; now they’re going to have to turn away many of their customers as well.
In considering the economic effects of the current smoking ban on restaurants, bars, and music venues in aggregate, it is clear that the smoking ban has had a very real and profound effect on my ability to find work, my social life, and my ability to advance my music career. Never in my life has it ever been so difficult, and remember, these difficulties began before, not after, the current economic crisis; hence, it is safe to assume that smoking bans create their own economic deficits by not allowing establishments to accommodate the demands of the free market.
Prospects for the Future
It is so hard to find work in L.A. in the music AND in the hospitality industries already as is, and NOW there's a new outdoor smoking ban set to take effect this Tuesday. I'm currently looking for work in an environment that is already plagued by the over-regulation of the little guy, as well as the empty storefronts that now litter many of our once prosperous boulevards (even in once affluent neighborhoods). It’s everywhere you look around this city, even in those areas that were once considered as being recession proof. It is time for us all to work together, smokers and non, wealthy and working class, Left and Right, so that we may demonstrate to the world at large and the deaf ears of the mainstream media that we all have a right to exist, and that yes, we smokers have a right to exist and yes, we are indeed a part of the overall economy. We also have the right to assemble as persons of free will. An affront on this most basic of liberties, harms not only the overall economy, but the notion of freedom itself.
To learn more about Juliette Tworsey and her band “Firebug”, we encourage you to visit their website at:
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