Social Organization in Bars: Implications for Tobacco Control Policy

Article excerpt

This article considers social roles and relationships of the patrons, staff and owners of bars as critical factors determining adherence to public health policies, and specifically California's smokefree workplace law. Specific elements of social organization in bars affecting health policy include the community within which the bar is set, the unique identity the bar creates, the bar staff and patrons who enact this identity, and their bar society. These elements were found to contribute to the development of power relations within the bar and solidarity against the outside world, resulting in either resistance to or compliance with smoke-free workplace policy.

KEY WORDS: Bars, taverns, drinking contexts, social organization, observational studies, ethnography

Public health policies related to alcohol generally and bars or other on-premise alcohol outlets specifically typically characterize bars as discrete and relatively homogenous units consisting of the physical setting, the server and other staff, and the patrons. The policies affecting these businesses and the people who work in or frequent them are placed in a variety of legal structures, including zoning ordinances and workplace legislation, as well as health codes at local, county, state, federal, and international levels. Policies focusing on alcohol outlets may include restrictions on types of alcohol permitted to be served, time of sales, minimum ages of patrons and servers, and other restrictions based on proximity to schools or on previous noncompliance with any restrictions (Edwards, Anderson, Babor, Casswell, Ferrenc, Giesbrecht, et al., 1994; Gliksman, Douglas, Rylett & Narbonne-Fortin, 1995; Grube, 1997; Laixuthai & Chaloupka, 1993; Mosher, 1999a, 1999b; Preusser & Williams, 1992; Wittman, 1997). In addition to restrictions on alcohol sales, bars and other alcohol outlets have been operationalized as the objects of public policies including smoke-free workplace ordinances restricting worker exposure to secondhand smoke (Moore, Lee, Antin & Martin, 2006; Moore, Lee, Martin, Todd & Chu, In Review; Weber, Bagwell, Fielding & Glantz, 2003) and violence and aggression (Graham, Osgood, Zibrowski, Purcell, Gliksman, Leonard, et al., 2004).

Since 1999 anthropologists at the Prevention Research Center in Berkeley, CA, have been analyzing the effects of one such policy - California Assembly Bill 13 (CAAB 13), a statewide ban on workplace smoking which in 1998 was applied to bars (Magzamen & Glantz, 2001) - by conducting a series of multi-method studies of tobacco policy compliance in bars in three California counties. Through extensive field observations and interviews we have identified wide variability within bars and aspects of bar culture which may greatly impact the success of these policies. These aspects may shape the likelihood of certain problematic health-related behaviors occurring in and around bars, such as heavy drinking, underage drinking, violence and aggression, risky sex, illicit drug use, and/or smoking cigarettes, as was the object of our studies. As observed in our studies, public health policies applied to bar settings may not be evenly upheld, applied, or enforced; we propose that the aspects of bar cultures identified here may impact the effectiveness of such policies as well.

In the following article, we will outline key aspects of bar cultures which bear on public health which we have identified through our ethnographic studies of bars. We specifically focus on social organization in bars. We define bars - also known as taverns or pubs - as those public institutions whose primary occupation is the sale and on-premise consumption of alcoholic beverages. We utilize the concept of social organization in its classical socio-anthropological sense, i.e. the interaction of persons in their relative social roles with the relationships between these persons. This article considers the social roles and relationships of bar patrons, staff and owners of bars as critical factors for health-related behaviors and adherence to public health policies. …