A coalition of musicians is pushing to end smoking in Nashville’s bars and music venues, the latest in a long line of efforts that have typically failed.

Tennessee passed a smoking ban in 2007, but included a carve-out for establishments with under-21 age restrictions.

Musicians for Smokefree Nashville are seeking to ban smoking in bars through a public awareness campaign that is gaining some momentum due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The group has the backing of Metro Health Director Dr. Michael Caldwell and Dr. Alex Jahangir, co-chair of the city’s coronavirus task force.

The coalition is led by independent Nashville singer-songwriter Jamie Kent, who said he was led to the cause because of his own battle with asthma. The Tennessean first reported on the push to end smoking in bars after Nashville Mayor John Cooper’s administration hosted a webinar on the issue in June.

Singer-songwriter Jamie Kent (Photo: Twitter)
Singer-songwriter Jamie Kent (Photo: Twitter)

“It’s a cause that’s truly close to my heart, and has impacted me personally many times throughout my career. As an artist, as a server, and as a fan,” Kent said.

The coalition’s sales pitch is that COVID-19 is an opportunity for Nashville to re-examine the issue. In a press release this week, the coalition quoted Jahangir, who pointed out the harmful effects that both smoking and COVID-19 have on the lungs.

“You get terrible lungs from smoking as well as terrible lungs from COVID-19,” Jahangir said.

State law blocks local governments from passing their own smoking bans. Kent said he’d like to see the state law changed to return control to local governments. In the meantime, he’s seeking to raise awareness beginning with a benefit concert, which will be livestreamed on Thursday from The 5 Spot in East Nashville.

“Despite COVID-19 creating such a challenging year for so many of us, it feels like it’s also presented us with an opportunity to shine a new spotlight on this old issue,” Kent said.

Musicians for a Smokefree Nashville also released a song, written and performed by local artists, about the cause. Kent estimated that about 15 bars and venues in Davidson County still allow smoking.

The 5 Spot was one of those establishments until 2014, when owner Todd Sherwood changed the club’s policy and banned smoking. Sherwood said his business didn’t suffer.

“No one stopped coming here because we went non-smoking,” Sherwood said. “We gained more customers, and a lot of our staff quit smoking once we made the change.”

Kent said the coalition is gaining steam, having earned the backing of the American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation and Metro Health Department and Visit Music City.