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Nicotine and caffeine

| Monday, July 24, 2006

Walking into the Crazy Mocha coffee shop on Ellsworth Avenue was comparable to smelling the hamper after a night out at the bars.

Even mid-morning on a weekday, with few people sitting in the shop and none of them smoking, the smell of former puffers lingered. And within five minutes of being there, new smokers lit up, sipping from their mugs of coffee.

"Cigarettes and coffee, man, that's a combination," said Iggy Pop in the aptly named 2003 movie "Cigarettes and Coffee."

A 2003 study by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University found that young women who drink coffee are five times more likely to smoke, with 25 percent of all coffee drinkers being smokers.

But with Allegheny County Council trying to pass a bill banning smoking in most workplaces -- which would include restaurants, bars and coffeehouses -- the cigarette-and-coffee combo might be something soon enjoyed only at home -- or on a porch.

"I'd survive. I'd be sad, but I'd survive," said Justin Lauber, 28, of Shadyside, as he took a drag inside Crazy Mocha.

Even now, smoke-as-you-will coffee shops are hard to come by. One of the reasons Lauber said he frequents Crazy Mocha is that it's the only one he can find near his house that lets him light up.

"There's something about it, I don't know what," he said. "Just about everybody in this coffee shop smokes, so it's kind of hard not to."

You won't find anyone pulling out a pack of Camels at a Starbucks. Even most of Crazy Mocha Coffee Company's locations don't allow smoking. Of the seven locations, only the ones in Bloomfield and Shadyside are smoke-filled. When Crazy Mocha owner Ken Zeff bought those two locations, they were formerly coffeehouses that allowed smoking.

"That was sort of the niche of both of those shops," Zeff said, adding he didn't want them to lose that appeal. "The feel of the stores we're creating now just don't having the smoking feel to them."

The 61C Cafe in Squirrel Hill tries to appease both those who relish fresh air and those who enjoy their caffeine and nicotine together. Smokers aren't allowed to light up indoors, but many of them take advantage of the outdoor patio, employee Josh Higgins said.

Of course, with today's complicated array of coffee concoctions, 61C patrons are as likely to be smoking over a black Java as they are over iced mochas with soy milk or a sugar-free vanilla cappuccino with skim milk and no foam.

The coffee-and-cigarettes combo becomes an addiction feeding another addiction, said Tim Sedwick, so much so that his mom couldn't quit smoking without quitting coffee.

Sedwick hasn't quit either one. He enjoys his cup of joe at the Beehive coffeehouse on East Carson Street, where smokers have their own cigarette-approved rooms, complete with board games and computers.

"Personally, I find it the perfect breakfast," he said, tapping his cigarette into an ash tray. "They're complementary drugs.

Peeved about puffing


Allegheny County Council voted July 12 to send an anti-smoking ordinance to its Health and Human Services Committee. Council President Rich Fitzgerald, D-Squirrel Hill, proposed the ordinance after a similar bill failed to clear committee in the state Legislature. A majority of the county council's 15 members co-sponsored the bill.


Last month, the U.S. Surgeon General released a report detailing the dangers of secondhand smoke, stating there is no safe level of exposure. Patronizing smoke-free restaurants was recommended.


Council will be on summer break for several weeks, and the earliest they could vote on the issue would be Aug. 22. If passed, the ordinance would outlaw smoking in workplaces and outdoors within 15 feet of any entrance and fine restaurants $25 for violations.


Challenges for the passage of the bill include the state's Clean Indoor Air Act, which some have interpreted as saying a smoking ban only can be made at the state level. Even if the bill is passed, the county would have a new challenge of making sure the ban was enforced, Fitzgerald said.


Fifteen states have banned smoking, but the degree varies, and 40 states have at least one county or city that has banned or limited smoking.

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