Up in smoke

Two things I like: going to Cripple Creek to play a little video poker on the quarter machines, and hanging out in a downtown dive bar. Two things I don't like: spending time in an indoor space with smokers, and the smell of my clothes afterward.

That's why I'm all for the so-called Colorado Clean Indoor Air Act of 2006, which will, in some form, get through the Legislature and reach the governor's desk.

If Republican Mike May's bill arrives without any the usual special-interest exemptions, it'll be interesting to see what Bill Owens does. Casino operators want to be exempted, as do owners of nightclubs, bars and taverns. So you can bet that they'll be putting the arm on the governor.

Realistically speaking, indoor smoking is off-limits in every business, office, school and government building in our state. Nightclubs, bars and casinos are the only holdouts,throwbacks to the age of Edward R. Murrow and Humphrey Bogart, when smokers were cool and sophisticated, and a little cough was nothing, just part of your film noir persona.

But that is not, as a famous newscaster used to say, the way it is today. Only about 20 percent of Coloradans light up, and those who do are liable to be less educated, make less money, and smell worse (OK, I made that one up) than their non-smoking counterparts.

Just the other day, I was up at the Creek, happily ensconced at my favorite deuces-wild quarter poker machine, dreaming of a royal flush on the next draw, when my reverie was interrupted by the guy at the next machine. He sat down, coughed a few times and lit up. I left.

There were, as always, a lot of seniors in the casino, breaking the monotony of their retirement with a convivial ride on the Ramblin' Express and the chance, however unlikely, of a nice little hit on the slots. Some still smoke, but most don't, and a lot of 'em use oxygen. If you wanted to find a population more vulnerable to the health risks of secondhand smoke, you'd have to go to a preemie ward. That said, it's just unconscionable that smoking is allowed in every casino in the state.

Later that same day, I met friends at a favorite downtown bar. It was just as smoky as the casino, but it was a far different crowd; young, stylish, hip (to the very limited extent that anyone can be hip in Colorado Springs). I wondered why anyone with half a brain would take up smoking, especially young women. There must be a reason ... and then I got it!

Pulp Fiction. Uma Thurman. Remember her, languorously exhaling, smoke curling seductively around those perfect features? Who could have been cooler? Who could have been sexier? And who impressed 14-year-old girls in 1994? Here are those girls today,26-year-old hotties sitting at the bar, languorously exhaling.

Well, girlies, go ahead and exhale, but in a few months, you'll be heading outside. Because if Rep. May's bill somehow gets killed, or amended down to nothing, there's a powerful coalition of anti-tobacco interests just waiting to put an initiative on the ballot, which would go even farther in regulating public smoking.

And it's about time. I look forward to the day when I can walk into the casino, breathe clean air, sit down and play and really lose some serious money. Wait a minute ... maybe that's not such a good idea, after all!

Meanwhile, the Fine Arts Center is about to announce that it's renting 8,000 square feet on the ground floor of the Plaza of the Rockies (just north of the Pioneers Museum), to be called FAC Modern. It'll host an Annie Liebovitz show this summer, and may be a permanent downtown annex to the museum, not just stopgap space while the new addition is under construction.

So let's welcome our (for the moment) Temporary Contemporary. I'm donating a nice piece for permanent display: a "No Smoking" sign.



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