Russ Batenhorst Las Vegas brings back smoky memories


I have a fairly good recollection of the first time I heard mention of clean indoor air laws. It would have been in the late 1970s, during my college years, and I had just made a trip to the Minneapolis area. (Fear not, grieving ones, this isn’t a Minnesota football story.)

It was while I was on that trip that I learned of a recently enacted law, not sure if it was statewide or citywide, that prohibited smoking at public indoor areas — bars, restaurants and the like. It was rare at the time and aimed at keeping the air clean while inside.

I remember coming back from that trip and to my summer job, where I told a lady working at the same place about the law and how nice it was to go to bar or restaurant and not come out smelling like an ashtray.

I’ve never been a cigarette smoker, so I wouldn’t miss anything if there was such a law here, I said, so wouldn’t it be nice. As fate would have it, I was in a local bar shortly after that and ran into that same woman on a night where my buddies and I must have felt like it was an occasion that could only be celebrated with cigars, like Thursday or something like that. She promptly turned my words on me, rightfully so, but the idea of smoke-free buildings still intrigued me. (The cigars, by the way, were a very rare occurrence, one in which I hardly ever partook and always regretted the next day.)

I admit, as there are far too many witnesses to ever try to deny, that through the years I’ve spent my share of time in bars and other gathering places. Many was the time I’d come home with clothes that smelled of smoke. If it were ever a T-shirt or polo that had to be removed over the head, I’d have to hold my breath during the process.

It has been quite a pleasant change since 2009, when a Nebraska law passed the previous year required indoor workplaces to be smoke-free. No longer did a night on the town end with the smell of smoke following you home. I’m not looking down my nose at smokers, but I’m just glad the bar and restaurant air is cleaner now.

I couldn’t help but think of this after a recent trip to the land of many vices — Las Vegas. There is no such law there, and I’m betting it will be a long time before it ever happens. If nothing else, just think of the revenue the casinos would lose if smokers had to step outside every time they want to light up. That’s a lot of lost gambling time. You can deduce that by the fact that there’s plenty of smoking going on at the gaming tables.

Like I said, Vegas is the land of many vices, and the fact that you can get free drinks while gambling at some places means I could take care of two at the same time. The secondhand smoke of the next guy at the blackjack table or sports book area could almost make it a triple play.

Smokers have gotten more considerate through the years, though. When a guy had to reach across me to give his buddy a cigarette, he did ask if I wanted to trade places so I wouldn’t be surrounded by smokers. (I’m glad I declined — next deal he busted and I got a rare blackjack.)

After a little time there, it does become obvious that, despite all the information linking it to a shortened life span, there are still plenty of smokers out there. And when they can do so anywhere, it seems they are doing so everywhere. Upon getting back to the hotel room each night (OK — early morning), it was flashbacks to the old days as I’d find a separate place to keep the smoky clothes.

So, I guess it’s good to be home, where I can go out for an evening and come home with clean clothes and clean lungs.

I guess if I really need a vice when I’m out, there’s always keno and pickle cards.



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