Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 8 / 22 February 2018

Gay tobacco opponents
aim at secondhand smoke


Jacquie Hansen and Brian Davis of Freedom from Tobacco, present an appropriate T-shirt to J.D. Petras, center, owner of Cafe Flore, for prohibiting smoking in the cafe's outdoor patio.
(Photo: Rick Gerharter)
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Seeking to curb exposure to secondhand smoke in San Francisco's gay bars that have outside patios where smoking is allowed, the Freedom from Tobacco group unveiled a new study last week that showed four bars they surveyed had "unhealthy" air quality measurements.

The study, conducted with UCSF in December 2011, found that the two bars had air quality measurements ranging from "unhealthy" to "very unhealthy" on the Environmental Protection Agency scale; one bar ranged from "unhealthy for sensitive groups" to "unhealthy;" and one bar ranged from "moderate" to "unhealthy." Data was collected using a TSI SidePak AM 510 device.

Not surprisingly, there was a correlation between hazardous air and the amount of cover or makeshift ceiling that a patio had.

According to the report, "the three spaces with the more dangerous levels each had overhead coverings of some kind over at least 50 percent of the backyard."

The report was released at a Freedom from Tobacco event January 23 at Cafe Flore, where owner J.D. Petras made the outdoor patio smoke-free in October 2010, spokesman Gary Virginia told the Bay Area Reporter.

While it may be easy for a non-smoking patron to go back inside or move to another part of the patio when confronted with a plume of secondhand smoke, many workers like waiters, bartenders, and busboys do not have such a luxury.

"When you're working eight hours at one of these bars that's eight hours of bad air quality, having to breathe other people's smoke," said Hene Kelly of the San Francisco Labor Council.

The California Department of Public Health states, "14 percent of workers in California are still exposed to secondhand smoke at work, including disproportionate numbers of low income, young adult and Latino workers." Employees are unwitting victims to secondhand smoke but so are any of the patrons who happen to have respiratory problems or even non-smoking LGBT young adults who just want to have a good time.

"In California, 49 percent of queer 18 to 29 year olds are smokers," said Sean Fleming, a young clean air advocate. "Young gay people meet and build communities at bars where we want to go and have fun and not endanger our health."

Article 19F of the San Francisco Health Code dictates that smoking is only permitted on an "outside patio," which means the side or rear outside area of a bar or tavern that has no walls or ceiling and is open air. The open-air definition is a gray legal term that is open to interpretation as many bars have forms of rain shelter and table umbrellas on their patios.

Brian Davis, project director of Freedom from Tobacco, said that he could not publicly name the four bars studied as part of the group's agreement with UCSF. However, at last week's event Davis did discuss good news stemming from the report as some bars with patios have made changes.

The Cinch, the Powerhouse, and Pilsner Inn were mentioned last week. The Cinch recently put up a sign stating that smoking is allowed only on the back wall of the patio. In a breath of fresh air, the Powerhouse removed most of its overhead cover, Davis said.

"Pilsner Inn," said Davis, "has responded by removing some of their overhead cover and has agreed to increase the smoke-free area on the patio by an additional five feet beyond the at least 10 foot distance they have already marked on the floor. We are grateful to Pilsner Inn for taking these steps toward reducing the problem."

Representatives of the three bars did not return messages seeking comment.

A typical bar owner may fear a loss of revenue if his premises went completely smoke-free but economic surveys tell a different story, according to Freedom from Tobacco. A 2009 report out of Indiana University found that "businesses save money by going smoke-free due to reduced maintenance expenses, lower insurance rates, and lower labor costs (fewer sick days)."

Additionally, of 1,300 people surveyed by Freedom from Tobacco at San Francisco's LGBT Pride festival in 2011, 80 percent said they were bothered by secondhand smoke. In response to a second question, 54 percent strongly agreed and 26 percent agreed with the statement that secondhand smoke in outdoor patios of bars and clubs is harmful.

The positive attention surrounding smoke-free status can be a boon for the bottom line. For example, the lively event honoring Cafe Flore's commitment to clean air brought out such personalities as drag queen Bebe Sweetbriar, who gave a rendition of Lady Gaga's "Alejandro" with the lyrics "No Tobacco." City Supervisors Eric Mar and Scott Wiener also spoke briefly along with Davis and Freedom from Tobacco advocate Jacquie Hansen. Also on hand was John Rizzo, president of the Board of Trustees at City College. Representatives for state Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) and Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) also bestowed Petras with proclamations acknowledging the business providing a more healthy environment.

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