At FedExField, the rich are treated like everybody else. Only they can smoke without as much hassle.
The Redskins open their home schedule this weekend against New Orleans. It’ll also be the first official game played since Maryland’s tough new anti-smoking law took hold.
“People in Maryland will now have clean, smoke-free air while working, dining, shopping, or relaxing throughout the state,” reads the preamble to the law in informational materials from the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the agency charged with implementing the Clean Indoor Air Act of 2007.
Those pushing the anti-smoking law said second-hand smoke was responsible for the deaths of more than 1,000 Marylanders each year. Smoking has already been banned in many public places in the state since 1994, but workers in bars and restaurants were left unprotected by existing codes.
The bill, signed into law by Governor Martin O’Malley in May 2007 and effective as of February 1, 2008, makes Maryland one of 24 states in which it is illegal to light up in essentially every workplace.
“There aren’t many exceptions. We did really well,” says Barbara Frush, a Democrat who represents parts of Anne Arundel and Prince George’s counties in the Maryland House of Delegates and was the primary author and pusher of the Clean Indoor Air Act. “I would have cut out smoking in every indoor facility, every one ever, if it were up to me. Unfortunately, you need to get the best you can, and that was the best I could do, because 99.9 percent of workplaces are covered.”
But one exception to Frush’s law happens to be in her back yard. At FedExField, specifically.
That’s where you’ll find “Club Macanudo,” which last season was a 4,300 square-foot restaurant and bar that held up to 350 people. It’s located near the west end zone on the Joe Gibbs Level—aka the club seats. Only premium ticket holders are allowed entry to Club Macanudo.
Non-premium ticketholders will have to go further from their seats, to select open-air sections on the concourse level, to get a nicotine fix.
The Maryland Clean Indoor Air Act is one of the more comprehensive anti-smoking statutes in the country—so comprehensive that the bill even lists the few types of facilities that aren’t covered. Those include:
• private homes and vehicles,
• no more than 25 percent of the rooms in any hotel,
• research or educational labs where smoking studies are conducted,
• tobacco industry facilities, and
• retail tobacco establishments in which “the primary activity is the retail sale of tobacco products and accessories,” and sale of non-tobacco products is “incidental.”
Club Macanudo, as it was configured in previous seasons, didn’t muster a free pass.
Dr. Clifford Mitchell, director of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, says that all but hardcore tobacco-centric businesses must comply.
“If a place looks like a restaurant that happens to allow smoking, it may very well not be exempt,” says Mitchell, who says he has never been to Club Macanudo and speaks in general terms. “No matter what the name is or even if it claims that its primary purpose is retailing product, it may be that the sale of other products is not incidental. ‘Incidental’ was not specifically defined here. It’s in the spirit of, ‘I know it when I see it.’”
In other words, it won’t be defined until somebody sues under the new law?
“Correct,” Mitchell says.
Anybody who has visited Club Macanudo in years past would be hard-pressed to say that retailing tobacco was the “primary purpose” of the venue during Skins games. Sure, a helluva lot of smoking, both cigarettes and cigars, goes on. But food and drink sales seem more prominent than tobacco vending.
Even the Redskins, who have been having trouble selling premium seats in recent years, promote more than just cigars at Club Macanudo.
Sales materials for premium seats currently available on the Redskins Web site make Club Macanudo sound more like a bar that happens to sell smokes than a tobacco retailer: “[E]ntertainment awaits at Club Macanudo,” reads the sales pitch, “where you can kick back and watch the highlights while you enjoy a beverage and one of our great cigars. Cocktails, gourmet interpretations of classic football fare, and the world’s best hand-crafted cigars…make Club Macanudo the place to be during halftime or after the game.”
Such places no longer get a pass, says Kathleen Dachille, director of the Center for Tobacco Regulation, a group at the University of Maryland law school funded by the state.
“Once you’re selling food, that’s a no-go [for an exemption],” Dachille says. “A bag of chips might be OK, but anything more than that is not ‘incidental.’”
Dachille points to the case of the Mirage Cafe and Grill, a hookah bar in Frederick. Its owner told the state that it deserved an exemption as a tobacco retailer, but regulators denied the request because the business allowed water-pipe tokers to buy food and drink.
In previous battles over smoking legislation, the Redskins have gotten their way. The Prince George’s County Council unanimously passed its own anti-smoking bill in 2005, which banned smoking in almost all workplaces in the county as of January 2006. But, according to the Center for Tobacco Regulation, the Redskins successfully lobbied for an amendment that exempted FedExField from the law.
No such luck his time around.
Alan Heck, program chief of the food protection program for the Prince George’s County health department, says his agency is in charge of making sure businesses in the county are in compliance.
The Redskins have told the county that they intend to keep Club Macanudo operating as a smoking lounge, Heck says. And no matter what the Club Macanudo advertising says, the county has let the Redskins know they will no longer be able to offer “cocktails” or “gourmet interpretations of classic football fare.” The team has been told that the only products that can be vended at Club Macanudo this season will be cigars and cigarettes, Heck says.
“I think the Redskins understand that if they start serving any food in there, then they cannot have smoking,” Heck says. “They know they can’t have any parts of the bar operating.”
Gary Pesh, the owner of Old Virginia Tobacco (maker of Sonny Jurgensen’s SJ-9 cigar), has operated the Redskins’ smoking emporium since its days as “The Humidor.” Pesh says the new regulation might crush Club Macanudo.
“In essence, all we’ve got is a nice smoking lounge now,” he says. “We’re told we can have no servers, no waitresses, no bartenders, no food or drink for sale. If you want to have something to eat or drink while you smoke, you’ve got to buy it somewhere else and bring it in.”
But Pesh says he’s already plotting a comeback for the business. “Laws are enacted every year, and some of them are repealed,” he says. “I hope we can get rid of this one. For this year, I’ll have to live with it.”
But as long as the law is on the books, Heck’s agency plans to make sure FedExField is in compliance, beginning with Sunday’s kickoff.
“There’s still some work to do there, but my inspectors will be on [the club] level and will look inside. We also investigate any complaint, and if they don’t comply, people will call us,” he says. “Somebody always calls.”