Jun 1, 2022 - News

Smoking could be banned at Nashville bars and music venues

Illustration of smoke coming out of a cigarette making the "no" symbol.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

Nashville's few remaining smoke-filled bars could soon be a thing of the past.

Why it matters: Tennessee passed a law in 2008 that banned indoor smoking in almost every kind of business but allowed it to continue in establishments with age restrictions, like bars and music venues.

Driving the news: Legislation is awaiting Gov. Bill Lee's signature to enable Metro and other local governments to close this loophole and completely ban indoor smoking. Exceptions are made for cigar bars and certain kinds of private clubs.

  • The legislation was pushed by a coalition of creative professionals and hospitality workers called Musicians for a Smokefree Tennessee.

Context: Singer-songwriter Jamie Kent, who chaired the coalition, estimates there are around a dozen bars that still allow smoking in Nashville.

  • Kent says he began advocating for the law because performing in some of Tennessee's smoky venues over the years affected his asthma.
  • He says the coalition worked with about eight bars and venues in recent years to ban smoking before the government took action.

What he's saying: "We applaud the TN General Assembly for listening to our advocacy, empathizing with our issue, and passing a law that provides a crucial first step towards creating healthier workplaces for all Tennessee musicians," Kent tells Axios in a written statement.

The big picture: While the conservative state legislature has not seen eye to eye with Nashville and other city governments on issues like education funding and affordable housing policies, the smoke-free bill provides a template for empowering local governments to set their own policies.

What's next: Should Lee sign the legislation into law, it will be up to the Metro Council to decide whether to pass the ban.

  • While the vast majority of bars and venues have chosen to ban smoking over the last decade, Kent says the fear among professionals is that some could reverse course.

What we're watching: Kent says that due to the success of the anti-smoking campaign, he is collaborating with other professionals on creating a new advocacy group to give musicians a seat at the table on policy decisions that affect their livelihoods.

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