Bowling Alley Bans Smoking

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Gary Chitwood always looked forward to Tuesday evening league bowling -- a chance to forget about work, hang out with the guys and roll some spares, maybe even a few strikes.

But all that has changed.

Chitwood and the three other bowlers on the Chapman Auto Center team won't be joining the Elks and Friends league next year after Rim Country Lanes owner Bob Baker deemed the bowling alley smoke-free.

"For years and years it's always been OK," Chitwood said. "We have a few drinks, we smoke, we laugh and it's all fun."

Baker, who purchased the business in 2002, said the nonsmoking policy, implemented May 4, is part of creating a family-friendly environment.

"From the very beginning our goal is to have a family entertainment center," Baker said. "All our youth leagues have been nonsmoking."

The decision will be an adjustment period for many customers and many, like Chitwood, are threatening a boycott.

"It sucks," said a Marlboro-dragging Chris Cumpton who's been bowling at Rim Country Lanes since it opened more than 20 years ago. "I'm not going to bowl in any league."

Sparky Barnett, sipping light beer from a mug, sat next to Cumpton at the bar dusted with cigarette ashes. Barnett stopped smoking 15 years ago.

"I figured I better quit before it killed me," he said. "I can see how they could have a nonsmokers rule, but how can you have a blanket rule? It's an imposition on people who smoke."

But Rim Country Lanes is part of a nationwide trend of businesses that have banned smoking.

Eighteen states and more than two dozen Arizona municipalities have banned or limited the use of tobacco products in public places, including bars.

"This is going on in the bowling industry at large," Baker said. "I made an announcement with the league bowlers and gave them the time to vent. Smoking is part of the entertainment. The painful part is losing some bowlers."

Chitwood said half the teams in his league will walk out of competition next year.

"Some lady told me to go outside and smoke," he said. "For some lady to tell me to go out and smoke, it offended me."

Over the years, Ken Ehlert has seen plenty of lane time at the bowling alley.

"I don't like smoke," he said. "They'd just as soon smoke outside. It stinks up your clothes."

Rim Country Lanes manager, 25-year bowler and smoker, Kevin Erickson, said the crew cleaned the carpet, wiped down the surfaces and moved the four smoke-eating filters to the bar.

"There was nicotine hanging to all the walls," Erickson said. "I could come in here, not knowing what day it was, and I could tell what league bowled the night before because of the smell."

Nonsmoking, Erickson added, is the wave of the future.

"We've had more people thank us," he said. "They say they'll be coming back because we're going smoke-free."

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