"This is the first act of civil disobedience in my life," laughed comedian and nonsmoker Drew Carey, as he lit a cigarette in the popular West Hollywood restaurant Barney's Beanery March 31. "Lock me up."
Before a crush of microphones, cameras, reporters, and fellow protesters, the stand-up comic and ABC sitcom star publicly flouted the ban on smoking in bars and restaurants that took effect in California January 1. The event, which also promoted REASON Senior Editor Jacob Sullum's new book For Your Own Good: The Anti-Smoking Movement and the Tyranny of Public Health, attracted lots of press attention. Entertainment Tonight, Access Hollywood,CNN, VH-1, and E! Entertainment News sent camera crews and correspondents, as did the local network affiliates and two independent stations.
"I want to have the right myself to ostracize [smokers], I don't want the government to do it," said magician/comedian/nonsmoker Penn Jillette, who took a drag from a bystander's cigar. Print reporters from USA Today, the Associated Press, Daily Variety, and Hollywood Reporter covered the smoke-in, as did Los Angeles Times columnist Mike Downey. Along with the camera crews and reporters, two other stars of The Drew Carey Show--Ryan Stiles (Lewis) and Nan Martin (Mrs. Louder)--and about two dozen grassroots protesters joined the smoke-in.
Irwin Held, owner of Barney's, gladly hosted the event because he says the ban has reduced his business by 30 percent to 40 percent. This loss of commerce doesn't seem to bother West Hollywood Mayor Steve Martin (not the actor), who said he was "disappointed" in the positive publicity Carey and his fellow scofflaws attracted. "The ban is here to stay," Martin said. "The government is looking out for the majority, and the smoking ban makes good sense for the majority."