Divide and Conquer


Seventy municipalities in Massachusetts, including Boston, have banned smoking in restaurants and bars. Now a statewide ban looks almost inevitable, as even the bar owners' trade group is giving up the fight.

"We will not oppose a ban and we will not support it, which is a change in our position, to be honest with you," said Peter Christie, president of the alliance of restaurant, bar, and nightclub owners. "If you look at the population and the amount of restaurants that are in those 70 communities, it's pretty substantial."

"With Boston's decision, we felt we were at a point where there was a critical mass," said state Representative Rachel Kaprielian, a Watertown Democrat championing the statewide restrictions. "There is the political reality that there should be a level playing field among communities that are adjacent to each other. This would do that."

So here's the basic divide-and-conquer strategy for how to take away, on a statewide basis, the rights of bar owners and patrons to make their own choices about smoking:

1. Fight to give local governments the power to ban smoking in privately owned establishments because "local control will allow for ample debate at the local level as to whether a smoke free ordinance is right for a particular city or town."

2. Once a critical mass of municipalities passes a ban, shift the argument from the need for "local control" to the need for "a level playing field."

3. Glide to victory once the bar owners' lobbyists throw in the towel because of their divided membership.