Tennessee’s smoking ban calls to mind images of restaurants and other places where families might go with their children where smoking was a typical hazard. What has rarely been considered in the ban, however, is the law’s impact on music venues and local bands around Nashville and Murfreesboro.
The “Tennessee Non-Smoker Protection Act,” which went into effect on Oct. 1, bans smoking in all public, enclosed places with a few exceptions. Some restaurants and bars like The Gold Rush made early headlines by remaining smoker friendly under the strict guideline they only let in patrons that are 21 or older. But, just across the street, Exit/In owner Josh Billue kept the popular Nashville mainstay open to everyone over 18.
“For the most part, it’s probably hurt us more than it helped us,” said Billue. He reasoned that if smokers are going to have to go outside to light up a cigarette, then there’s nothing to stop them from running across the street to get a beer at the Gold Rush, which would be a loss in a sale to their own bar.
Exit/In has fallen on hard times before, including a recent bankruptcy which left Billue in control of the place in December 2005. Enough wayward customers may be the tipping point to put the venue below breaking even. However, the idea of restricting the venue to people who are only 21 and over would be risky, according to Billue.
“It wouldn’t be as hard initially [to go 21+], but so many shows that occur in the venue you really can’t tell who’s going to come out and see what,” said Billue. “For instance, State Radio just played and it was a young crowd. We’d either have to not book the show or lose money on it.”
But, while larger venues can afford to alienate smokers, many smaller clubs have opted to stay smoker-friendly at the expense of the younger age group. This presents complications for smaller bands that can’t book larger clubs, but aren’t older than 21.
Sophomore Abby Selden is a vocal opponent to the ban.
“I think it’s ridiculous and embarrassing for the state of Tennessee,” said Selden. “I don’t understand why they wouldn’t just ban smoking instead of having a clause in the law specifically granting exemptions to places.”
Selden plays keyboards and sings in a band called “Says Pete” along with Belmont student Kelli Sandlin and two of their friends from Alabama. The band booked a show at the Temptation Club in Murfreesboro in August for the first weekend of October without any word from the venue about the law. It wasn’t until days before the show that the venue told them that their show had become 21+ because of the smoking ban.
“Initially Kelli called them and they said, ‘Well, if you’re not 21 you can’t play the show’,” recalled Selden. After Sandlin asked if they should cancel the show entirely, the venue changed their minds saying, “You can play but we’re going to check you really strictly and don’t even try to bring in anyone under 21.”
As a result, despite 20 people being committed on the Facebook event for the show, only a handful were able to get in. Those who managed to get in without being of age, mainly friends of Zombie Bazooka Patrol, another band, were quickly ejected from the venue. It also means that some of the venues that were easiest to book for a small band like The Boro, which Says Pete has played at least a dozen shows in, are off limits to them.
“All [the ban] does is hurt people, especially at a place like Belmont where there are young bands,” said Selden. “A lot of them are just getting started and they’ll play anywhere, but now they can’t play a lot of these places.”
Although Tennessee’s Non-Smoker Protection Act has had a damaging effect in the eyes of many venues and bans, none of the complaints have come from people unhappy about not being able to smoke where they want to. Billue mentioned off hand exactly how the staff at Exit/In feel about the law.
“None of us really like smoking anyway. Out of the entire Exit/In staff there are probably two people who smoke cigarettes. But, it affects the bottom line.”