smoke-free bar
Amanda Overton pours a drink for a customer at Sipango Lounge on Wednesday. (William W. Savage III)

The human nose supposedly can detect more than 1 trillion smells.

Several bars in the Oklahoma City metro are currently running online surveys to determine whether patrons and prospective customers would rather not smell smoke at those establishments.

“We’re just checking it out and feeling out the crowd in this area,” said Mike Hyde, owner of Sipango Lounge, 4301 N. Western Ave. “I don’t smoke myself. I don’t like cigarettes. I have friends I’ve known for years who won’t come in here ’cause of the smoke. How do I argue that?”

In addition to the Sip, longtime OKC bars Edna’s, Classic’s and the chain of 10 Henry Hudson’s are all currently gathering opinions on smoking. The online surveys (linked above) have been coordinated with the help of Free The Night, a TSET-funded statewide campaign that attempts to convince restaurants and bars to go smoke-free voluntarily.

“I think a common misconception is that it’s only nonsmokers who prefer smoke-free venues,” said Free The Night campaign manager Kathleen Thomas. “We have received a lot of support from individuals who smoke. They prefer smoke-free venues as well and understand that secondhand smoke is harmful.”

While she hopes bars eventually choose to make the switch, she said her group has not posted the four ongoing surveys to its own social media pages for fear of tainting the results.

‘A health issue’

“Oklahoma is a last bastion for smoking (in a bar),” said patron Mark Thomas in the Henry Hudson’s at 6728 N. Olie Ave. “If it changed, I would not come in here at all.”

Having smoked for five decades, Mark Thomas said the issue of indoor smoking is driven by politics, political correctness and health.

“A lot of this is a health issue,” Mr. Thomas said, noting that both of his parents died from lung cancer. “You gotta die of something. This is my social outlet.”

Kathleen Thomas — no relation to the Hudson’s patron — said more than 1,000 responses have come in since the four surveys launched Sept. 7. She said the surveys will remain up a few more days, and she added that any other establishment wanting to run a survey can do so easily with her organization’s help.

While the Henry Hudson’s survey asks which location respondents most frequent, the four surveys are otherwise the same:

  • Do you smoke, and what is your age and your zip code?
  • How much do you agree or disagree that secondhand smoke in a confined space is a health hazard; that it is harmful to you; that you prefer attending smoke-free clubs?
  • If said venue went smokeless, would you be likely to go there less, more or the same?

A state law from 1987 referred to as “preemption” currently prevents municipalities or counties from having stronger smoking laws than the overarching state law. The law was passed in response to city-wide indoor smoking resolutions being considered in the 1980s by Edmond and Tulsa, according to Doug Matheny, retired chief of the Oklahoma State Department of Health’s tobacco prevention office.

‘The owner’s decision’

“Right now, it’s the owner’s decision,” Kathleen Thomas said. “We’re actually having quite a bit of success working with owners. It’s gone pretty well. Better than I expected when I started, anyway.”

Since she started in January, the campaign manager has worked with seven bars in Oklahoma that have kicked the smoking habit: Apothecary 39 (OKC), Wormy Dog Saloon (OKC), Inner Circle Vodka Bar (Tulsa), New Age Renegade (Tulsa), Baker St. (OKC), The Wreck Room (OKC) and Rooster’s Cocktails (Tulsa).

“The bars and clubs we’re working with who have made the switch to smoke-free have been incredibly pleased with the positive reaction from their customers – and with the new faces they are seeing as a result of their decision,” Thomas said. “In one instance, we had a bar owner — who runs multiple venues — ‘test out’ being smoke free at one of their bars for a few months. Then (they) decided to make more of their locations smoke free after it was such a success.”

At Sipango, bartender Amanda Overton said smoking in bars affects people’s health, including hers.

“I wouldn’t mind it being nonsmoking,” said the 13-year drink-slinging veteran. “I’d save on laundry detergent. Sometimes, you really want to go home and take a shower, but it’s 3 a.m., so you go to sleep. You wake up and your pillows stink.”

Hyde, Overton’s boss, said he doesn’t know what will happen once the survey results are reviewed.

“I think we’re all interested,” he said. “Deep down, I know that. We’ll see what the results are. If the numbers are favorable and everybody’s in agreement, I want to do it.”

‘This is a business’

The sentiment of waiting on the survey results was echoed Wednesday afternoon by the general manager of the Olie Avenue Hudson’s.

“Bottom line, this is a business and I need to pay my bills,” said Josh Stuewe. “It’s a business decision. Is smoking a health hazard? Driving a car is. Drinking a beer is. Eating food with preservatives is.”

Stuewe made his comments while he, Mark Thomas and three other customers smoked cigarettes at the horseshoe bar. The bartender, a pregnant woman, said the decision to go into a smoking bar is a personal one. Stuewe agreed.

“One of my biggest pet peeves is when someone who doesn’t smoke comes in here and complains about the smoke,” he said.