In Virginia, a smoking ban that isn't
By Richard Hamner
My younger years included a nasty smoking habit that I quit long ago. I recall starting in high school (peer pressure) and enjoying a smoke with food, coffee or adult beverages. But looking back, I realize what a waste and a drain it was on my health and wallet. If I had a buck for every pack of cigarettes ...
So how do I feel about the recent ban on smoking in Virginia? “Ban”? Ha!
I initially thought highly of the law — it was long overdue. But when my wife and I visited a Lake Ridge pub to enjoy a burger and a brew without the stench of cigarettes in our clothes, hair and lungs — what we found was something quite different. The tobacco haze hung thick. I asked why. The new law continues to allow smoking in the bars of restaurants as long as that area is structurally separate (and ventilated) from the formal food serving area. Hmm. When I asked for clean-air seating, we were shown a stark, brightly lit diner area, almost empty. Gone was our preferred ambiance of Christmas lights, sports on TV, window views and music. Disappointed, we left without ordering and tried our favorite Occoquan pub. We found the same thing. Apparently, many restaurants are opting to allow smoking in their “segregated” bar areas. Nonsmokers who otherwise enjoy the ambiance have to endure the smoke. Are there others who share our disappointment?
Maryland recently banned smoking in bars, restaurants, and private clubs. The law applies to all indoor spaces. Some bars have set up tents and tables outdoors to accommodate smokers. We really felt the joy of a smoke-free sports tavern in Ocean City recently. The manager was upbeat about the ban and told us that it had no effect on revenue. If anything, the ban reduced cleanup time and rid the dining and bar areas of the tobacco sheen that covers everything. Bravo! This puts smoking where it belongs in our society — outside. It doubly encourages quitting — a good thing.
Virginia did well in making its restaurant food areas smoke-free. But it only goes halfway, keeping tobacco king of the bar, where sensitivities to revenue seem to be paramount. I wonder whether revenue would expand if an all-indoor smoking ban similar to Maryland’s was enacted. Virginia should explore this possibility and amend its law accordingly. In an era of skyrocketing medical costs and health-care reform, tobacco shouldn’t and doesn’t have to be king. Baby boomers should be reminded to discourage younger generations from taking up the vice.
Legislation should complement this effort for the greater public good, rewarding those who choose not to smoke and making it a bit harder for those who do. After all, health-care reform starts with individual choices.
| December 24, 2009; 2:39 PM ET
Categories: HotTopic, Virginia, public health
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