Roger Egan is pissed off.
Roger Egan is pissed off.
Kevin Scanlon

Up in Smoke

Roger Egan is pissed off. After 14 years as proprietor of McDuffy's, Tempe's most popular sports bar, Egan is about to get boned by Big Brother. To make matters worse, his efforts to squash Proposition 200, Tempe's just-passed anti-smoking law, have come to naught. Neither Egan nor Tempeans for the Freedom to Choose, the organization of more than a hundred Tempe-based businesses that he chairs, were able to convince bargoers to set down their brewskis long enough to vote against the proposition in May.

"So we ended up with a law that bans tobacco smoke from all indoor workplaces," Egan grouses, "and I end up losing business because people are gonna go someplace where their enjoyment isn't legislated by city government."

I met Egan at McDuffy's the day after Prop 200 passed. Seated in a tuck-and-roll vinyl booth, he surveyed his then-still-smoky kingdom — a sea of dark wood tables, 20-odd televised sporting events, and a bustling off-track-betting station — and grimaced. "Eighty percent of these people will be gone once this law goes into effect."

Pela: Are you a smoker?

Egan: No, and I never have been. I spent three years in Vietnam killing people, which is a good enough reason to pick up bad habits. And I still never smoked. That's pretty hard-core not smoking.

Pela: So Proposition 200 isn't about smoking for you, it's about freedom of choice.

Egan: Absolutely. I have a real problem with the referendum system because so few people vote, and so it takes very few people to change things now. That system is horribly broken and is leading us down a dangerous road.

Pela: But the initiative was signed by 13,500 Tempe residents — the most ever garnered for a Tempe initiative.

Egan: Big deal. The problem is you have a community of 165,000 but only 65,000 of them are registered voters. Then you only get 30 percent of those people showing up to vote. So you've got 10,000 people dictating what the other 155,000 are going to do. It's a very inappropriate way to make decisions. It sucks.

Pela: It does seem sort of schizophrenic that Tempe is working hard to redevelop itself into a vibrant young city and also supporting measures that might push people away.

Egan: It's hard to be welcoming when you're legislating people's enjoyment. The government is telling us they can do this because bars are public places, since we serve the public. Wake up! There's not a dime of public money here; it's a bar! It's a private business! People are going to drive past Tempe on their way to someplace else. Smokers are gonna go where their needs are taken care of. So I'll lose customers, because there are tons of sports bars out there.

Pela: That's your main concern, really: the way this law will impact your livelihood.

Egan: Thousands of people think I'm evil personified — that I'm a greedy business owner who's out to make a buck whether or not I kill people with secondhand smoke. The truth is that a smoking ban will run some of us out of business. The city is saying to us, "So you've got that business there that you've had for 14 years, it's a huge investment, but we don't really care. If you go under because of this stupid anti-smoking law, some other business will come in and replace you. We don't care about you." That's how our city fathers feel.

Pela: Is it just bad planning on the part of city planners?

Egan: It's legislation based on a lot of lies. We already have a smoking ordinance on the books, and there hasn't been a complaint about that ordinance since 1986. If you talk to most people who live here, they have no problem with cigarette smoking in hotels or restaurants. This isn't a burning health issue, it's the story of one fanatic who went out and lied to the public about his intentions.

Pela: You mean Dr. Leland Fairbanks, the 73-year-old anti-smoking activist who says he's concerned about the health of Tempe citizens.

Egan: Yeah, him. I've been challenging Fairbanks for over 20 years. He's been around forever, and he says secondhand smoke kills everyone. His goal is to stop smoking on a global level. He's finally had to admit he can't do it statewide, so instead he's gonna go after one city at a time. He's going to pit one city against another. He'll go after Chandler and then Scottsdale. You watch.

Pela: So how did this get passed into law? Was it because the language was vague?

Egan: It passed because the public was sold a bill of goods to get it on the referendum in the first place. Petitioners went out and asked people on the street, "Do you like cigarette smoke?" And if the voter said no, they were asked to sign. They weren't told how signing this thing would impact the community. Tricking people into signing a petition against smoking is easy, because more and more people — especially women — are opposed to it. The guys with the referendum targeted women with children when they were collecting signatures!

Pela: And what were you doing to counter this?

Egan: Well, this is really where the whole thing fell apart. We had a tough time securing our own voters because, historically, the people we cater to don't vote.

Pela: You mean people who hang out in bars don't vote.

Egan: Let's just say that we got 2,300 votes, and we needed 5,000 votes to beat it. But we couldn't even get that.

Pela: I had a hard time following the ambiguous language of the ordinance — it left the question of outdoor smoking areas completely in doubt.

Egan: That was deliberate. It seems to be saying that a bar can't have a smoking patio that surrounds the entrance or exit, and that no patio smoke can interfere with the activities of the public or your employees. It's deliberately vague, and we're hoping that the city attorney will interpret it as liberally as possible. Right now, it pits bar owners against one another, because some bars have patios, and others don't.

Pela: That guy at the next table just lit up a cigarette. After this new ordinance goes into effect, what happens to him?

Egan: Poor guy. The new law says he'll be greeted here with signs telling him he can't smoke. He won't find an ashtray on his table. If he tries to smoke, we'll have to actually go over and tell the poor slob to put it out. If he doesn't, he'll be fined. He'll have to be escorted to the door. Get the smoking Gestapo out here! Lock the son of a bitch up! Put him in handcuffs and beat him up! Jail for life!

Pela: What about rumored links between your group and the tobacco industry?

Egan: It's bull. We ran a professional campaign; we filed everything with the city. We kept to the high ground while our opponents competed by misleading the public with fear and half-truths.

Pela: I'm guessing you didn't get a lot of support from local government.

Egan: We had one Tempe councilman, Dennis J. Cahill, who was promoting Prop 200 to further his political career, since he's never had a real job in his life. He's lived off the political dole his entire adult life, to the detriment of the community. Other officials did nothing, because they felt it was a no-win situation for them, so they stuck their heads in the sand and refused to take a stand about it.

Pela: What happens now?

Egan: I'll never support another politician or community leader in Tempe again after this. We've been here 14 years, and I'm moving to Peoria and opening a bar there. I've had it with Tempe.


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