Community, Lifestyle

The Cost Of Lighting Up In The Inner North

February 20, 2018

Written by Jake Peric and Nina McQueen 


Picture this: you’re home on a Tuesday night – your only company being the light from your television screen. You feel like going out and doing something that doesn’t assault your bank account. You and your friends are simply looking for a quiet setting in which you can sit and converse in a civil manner. However, it’s winter and you’re a smoker, so travelling a mere 20 metres from an establishment to light up your beloved tobacco treat is the equivalent of braving a New York blizzard. Luckily for you, there exists outdoor seating areas in various cafes across Melbourne, even some equipped with heating devices to keep you warm. Alas, your night is saved, and many great memories will ensue.

The above situation was a rather casual one for myself and many others in the inner northern suburbs of Melbourne, yet on August 1st of 2017, the woes for smokers were to only worsen. On this day, it became illegal to smoke within 500 metres of any café or outdoor dining facility, completely abolishing the wonders of the outdoor café setting altogether. Offending businesses can be fined a whopping $7773 for simply allowing one individual to do so.

This is also following a range of sanctions imposed in Victoria that prohibits smoking at train stations and school entrances respectively. We are all aware of the health risks linked with tobacco smoking, so there’s absolutely no point in mentioning them at all. Of course, some of the smoking restrictions are understandable, especially the ones involving school entrances and smoking in a car with a passenger under the age of 18. I am all for preserving the health of our younger generation, but to ban it completely at outdoor dining areas is just plain wrong.

N: It’ll be interesting where I stand on this issue because I can’t classify as a smoker…I suppose a social smoker (meaning get quite a few wines in me and I might be drunk enough to), but I don’t think I’ve picked up a cigarette more than a few times so, probably not even that. Generally, I can’t stand much about smoking. I’m not going to be all anti-smoker authoritarian and get up in your face about it, but I also can’t help screwing up my face in disgust if someone is smoking in a confined crowd, such as in the city. I haven’t experienced this within the inner north, but I do agree that if I’m paying a reasonable amount for a nice brunch outside, for example, I’m going to be pretty ticked off to have smoke-smell intercepting my taste buds. I think most people would generally accept it in a bar or pub, but if we’re talking about outdoor dining areas that every age group uses, then I don’t think it’s such an unreasonable law to ban smoking in these areas.

I had travelled to Melbourne’s inner north, specifically Fitzroy on the first Saturday this sanction was imposed to a bar that I classify as one of the best in the area. The upstairs portion is usually the most popular – with its bar combined with the lovely outdoor area that provides a stunning view of Brunswick Street. To my surprise, they had banned smoking altogether on the balcony, with the exception to one small corner. This forced myself and others to smoke in this cramped space, which is only a minor inconvenience at its core, yet nonetheless, the freedom was gone.

I didn’t want to check out any other places that featured a great outdoor smokers area, in fear that it was banned altogether, or only being allowed to do so in a small corner, much like the junkie I felt like I was being treated as. Obviously I do not blame any of these establishments as they are only following the sanction imposed last year, but it simply ruined the entire experience.

N: the establishments themselves can’t be ridiculed in any way for these new rules; they’re just following regulations, after all. I suppose this would be an irritating practice for smokers, but at least there is an area within these places that accommodate for smokers. I hate to be one of those people, but in the end, you choose to be a smoker. You may or may not be aware of the health risks, but most people are, so instead of jeopardising those around who are actively trying to protect themselves from second-hand toxic puffs, I actually think it’s a reasonable and fair practice to separate smokers from non-smokers. You can’t pick up a cigarette and smoke wherever you want in the same way I can’t pop open the bottle-o and take a swig down the street. 

In this modern age where equality is preached almost daily, it seems smokers are constantly being outlawed in today’s society. Look at all the places smoking has been totally banned in, and you tell me that they are being treated fairly. Understandably, indoor smoking is no longer acceptable, however this I understand, as being indoors forces other patrons to be exposed to the harmful chemicals, but outdoors is a totally different story.

The inner northern suburbs of Melbourne is one of the most multicultural and diverse areas in the entire state, so for something like this to occur is totally mind boggling, especially since smoking culture in the inner north is quite rich, at least from my experiences anyway. Don’t believe me? Go out on a Friday or Saturday night and travel to the many bars, restaurants and clubs in the area and you will see exactly what I mean. The prevalent hipster subculture in the area encompasses smoking at its very peak; being an extremely social activity and nothing as sinister as the media portrays it as. So why outlaw this action as they have been doing so for the last decade? Last time I checked, no one is forcing you to eat in an outdoor area that features smokers.

N: Again, smokers have chosen to pick up a dangerous habit in which not only their health is affected, but others are also, even if the damage is slight. The atmosphere outside doesn’t exactly eat away at the toxic chemicals being emitted from poisonous butts. As for equality, of course the government is going to regard the healthier population with higher respect and push boundaries on those who are regularly smoking, polluting not only your body and others around, but also the environment. Ultimately the law is pushing towards a smoke-free society, thus a healthier and longer-living community. Personally, if the breeze is strong and the space is large, I don’t mind if people are smoking outdoors as long as it’s not leaving me gasping for fresh air. It is true that the smoking culture is elaborate within the inner north, and if we could all do our thing without harm, that’d be splendid, but it’s just not that practical. I don’t think the media representing smoking as a sinister thing is a bad thing whatsoever – especially if it makes people, including younger generations, think about the risk of their habits.

What does this mean for businesses in the region? Will switching to this seemingly family-friendly model attract previously loyal smoking customers or will they not attend in sheer protest? It’s too early to tell and may simply be down to speculation, but at this rate almost anything is possible really. I will be very interested to see how everything will play out. Will establishments conform to these new rules, or will they continue the same practices that have been occurring for decades?

Apart from annoying smokers alike, this change may greatly benefit those who do not smoke. More specifically those who have recently quit smoking. Obviously it is extremely hard to kick this habit, and even harder with smokers present. I can wholeheartedly vouch for these individuals, as the slightest smell of smoke would almost break down any will barrier. It seems unfair for a person in this very situation to have to totally avoid most outdoor dining areas, or engage in a monolithic battle with these urges whilst trying to enjoy a Parma. I can tell you, it’s not pleasant whatsoever. This will allow anyone to enjoy an outdoor dining area, without obtaining urges they are trying not to succumb to, or even those who simply don’t want a waft of smoke in their face whilst trying to eat or converse with others. This new sanction will greatly benefit these individuals.

N: Exactly. Though there are disadvantages for smokers for the most part, and potentially some businesses that thrive off smoking customers’ interest, there still remains the positive outlook. Perhaps this will encourage smokers to leave their ciggies at home and converse with non-smokers without having to take a break every half hour or so to light up. For those, like me, who aren’t remotely addicted and just smoke for the hell of it, might realise it’s novelty has worn off and the practice is too out of our way to bother. It might encourage those addicted to quit. It’s hard to say, but it’s interesting to see both sides of the argument and how it might actually affect our beloved inner north.

I hope the inner north doesn’t lose its great personality due to this new law, as it is the aspect that makes it one the best areas in Melbourne.

It honestly seems it will get to a point in which the only place that you can safely light up a cigarette without any monetary threat, is in one’s backyard. We can only hope for the businesses in the area, in a financial sense, that they do not lose their clientele and remain in the same position they did before this sanction was imposed. Also, potentially encouraging new groups of people to attend their establishment due to the smoke-free policy.

Hopefully lighting up doesn’t lead to any other troubles than your personal health, and most certainly a hefty fine.

Feature Image Credit: Fitzroyalty Website

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