After reviewing the results of its survey on smoking, one of the oldest bars in Oklahoma City will snuff its cigarettes in November.
“There hasn’t been a day that’s gone by since 1936 that there hasn’t been a cigarette lit up in this place,” said Mike Hyde, owner of Sipango Lounge, 4301 N. Western Ave.
That streak will end on Friday, Nov. 13, the final smoking day at the “Sip,” as it’s called. In September, the bar agreed to conduct a survey of patrons and potential clients with help from smoke-free-bar advocacy group Free The Night.
“The numbers were overwhelming in response to it,” Hyde said Tuesday. “When it’s an overwhelming percentage like that, what are you going to do? You might lose a smoker or two, but you might gain three customers. That’s the way I kind of look at it.”
Of 302 responses to the Sip’s survey, 64.8 percent said they “prefer to go to smokefree bars and clubs,” and 58.9 percent said they would attend Sipango more often than they do now if the establishment dropped smoking.
So that’s what Hyde will have his bar do.
“There wasn’t negative feedback at all,” Hyde said. “A lot of my close friends wouldn’t come in because of the smoking. Now, they [won’t] worry about smelling like smoke.”
Kathleen Thomas, campaign manager at Free The Night, looks at it as a health issue, primarily. Her organization will help host a smoke-free watch party at the bar for OU’s football game against Baylor on Saturday, Nov. 14.
“We were really excited,” Thomas said of hearing Hyde’s decision following the survey. “It’s a bar that’s been around for a long time, and they have a great reputation. We’re excited that Mike has made the decision to make his bar a healthier place to hang out.”
Bartender Shasta Rutledge also expressed optimism. Now on her second stint of working at Sipango, Rutledge had quit smoking before returning to the bar. In the smoky environment, she had picked up the habit again.
“I’m excited so I can quit smoking,” she said. “I hang out up here a lot. I think it will help a lot of people.”
Hyde said he is not trying to make a big deal about the switch, though he said planned advertisements funded by Free The Night will help make “a good transition.”
Funded by the Oklahoma Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust, Free The Night has already helped convince eight other bars to go smoke-free since the beginning of the year, Thomas said.
Bars sign agreements and receive parties, online promotions and print advertising from Free The Night. While Thomas declined to say how much money goes into the process, her list of advertisements planned for the Oklahoma Gazette would total thousands of dollars.
Thomas said she remains hopeful that the other OKC bars surveyed in September — Edna’s, Classics and Henry Hudson’s — eventually choose to follow in the Sip’s footsteps. While she said Hudson’s is looking for more location-specific numbers and asked not to have its data released, survey results for Edna’s and Classics mirror the Sip’s findings.
At both Classics and Edna’s, more than 82 percent of respondents said second-hand smoke is harmful to people’s health. At Edna’s, 66.5 percent of 362 respondents said they would attend the bar more often if it were smokeless. Of 179 responses for Classics, 58.1 percent said the same thing.
About one in four Oklahoma adults smoke, compared to about one in five nationally, said Julie Bisbee, public information and outreach officer for TSET.
“Most people begin smoking before they are 18 and old enough to legally purchase cigarettes,” Bisbee said. “Over the past three years, we have also seen a slight increase in daily and occasional smoking (rates) among 18- to 24-year-olds, so it is important that there are healthy options and opportunities to increase smoke-free environments for this age group.”
Bisbee noted that the 18-to-34 age group has the highest number of smokers in Oklahoma. But Thomas emphasized that the vast majority of adults do not smoke, and she said the bars she has helped go smokeless have “done really well” from a business perspective.
“Once they go smoke-free, they’re open to anybody who has asthma or allergies,” Thomas said. “If a group of people has one member who has asthma, they’re not going to be going to a smokey bar.”