Claudette King, the youngest daughter of blues great B.B. King, loves performing, but she’s had to cut a show short or turn down gigs altogether because the smoke gets in her eyes. And lungs.
“I can’t do what I’m supposed to do when it’s smoky,” said the Marietta resident, who is known as “The Bluz Queen.” “It interferes with my performance and diminishes my health. It’s hard to deliver and be a good performer.”
King is asthmatic, and a few years ago, she was diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, a condition that can cause breathing difficulty, wheezing and mucus buildup.
She has joined with other entertainers who want to make smoking inside venues, bars and restaurants where there are live performances a thing of the past. They want to see all of the venues across the country become smoke-free or toughen existing smoking bans.
“It’s ridiculous,” said King, who recently stopped by a local club to support her band and left after singing one song, asking for Tylenol on the way out.
Entertainers Speak Out, an Atlanta-based nonprofit dedicated to ending indoor smoking where entertainers perform, will co-host a free party at Ellery's Atlanta bar and lounge this Thursday, to celebrate the recent passage of a tighter ban on smoking and vaping in public places, including bars, restaurants, workplaces and Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.
In 2005, Gov. Sonny Perdue signed the Georgia Smokefree Air Act, which prohibited smoking inside most public areas.
The city of Atlanta’s ban, which covers cigarettes, cigars and electronic cigarettes, went into effect last month.
Other cities have similar bans.
In 2018, Augusta approved an ordinance that banned smoking and vaping in most public spaces. Savannah also has a smoke-free ordinance that prohibits smoking in almost all public and workplaces including restaurants and bars.
Despite the Savannah ban, for instance, smoking is still allowed in some places. Hotels and motels are permitted to designate up to 20% of their rooms as smoking rooms; some restaurants meeting specific square footage requirements can allow smoking in no more than 20% of their outdoor eating area; and private residences used as businesses are exempt as long as they are not licensed child care, health care or adult day care facilities.
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According to the American Cancer Society, lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related deaths. And while more people are surviving because of earlier detection, declining smoking rates and improved therapies, it still remains a health concern.
Secondhand smoke results in more than 41,000 deaths per year, according to the American Lung Association. It can lead to cancer, asthma, respiratory infections and heart conditions.
The existence of a separate area for smokers, opening windows or using air filters does not necessarily prevent people from inhaling secondhand smoke, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Lewis McTush of Atlanta founded Entertainers Speak Out in 2010, concerned about the effects on performers and people who work in bars and restaurants.
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“We’re trying to save some people,” said McTush, a singer, who later managed a number of acts. In 1992, he suffered from congestive heart failure and had open-heart surgery, which he attributes to his 15-year smoking habit and working in smoky places.
Other artists involved in the initiative include Grammy-nominated blues performer and Georgia native Jontavious Willis. Smokefree Atlanta and Smokefree Music Cities have supported the project.
“I think about all the entertainers I’ve known who have passed away,” said McTush. “A lot of them are sick and a lot of them don’t smoke. They’re suffering from diseases that smokers get. That got me to asking questions.”
While some business owners fear losing customers, studies have shown there’s little negative impact on businesses becoming smoke-free.
And McTush has a message for owners and customers who resist change.
“For the one customer you lose, you’re going to gain five,” he said. “And for those who smoke, you don’t smoke on your job; why do you want to smoke on ours?”
McTush said his goal is to educate the public about the dangers of smoking and being exposed to secondhand smoke.
McTush spent years working in and around music venues. “Back then, the smoke was so thick you could hardly see the stage,” he said. “We used to laugh about it. We would say we could go outside the club and for at least five minutes, blow smoke out of your lungs. Those environments were really toxic. As musicians, we’re carrying this stuff on our clothes, on our instruments and back into our homes. Your kids would have asthma and you didn’t know why.”
At 70, he said his health challenge made him see his mission in another light.
“I’m still here to tell the story,” he said. “It helped me find my path, my direction and my message.”
Entertainers Speak Out, an Atlanta-based nonprofit dedicated to ending indoor smoking where entertainers perform, will co-host a free party at Ellery’s Atlanta bar and lounge, 2008 Campbellton Road SW in Atlanta, to celebrate Atlanta’s recent ban on smoking in public places. The party begins at 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 6.