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Posted at 2:39 PM ET, 12/24/2009

In Virginia, a smoking ban that isn't

By editors

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.

By editors  | December 24, 2009; 2:39 PM ET
Categories:  HotTopic, Virginia, public health  
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I agree that health care reform starts with individual choices. You chose to not eat at restaurants that did not meet your desire for smoke-free eating plus ambiance. And we should let restaurants choose whether they want a smoke-free or smoking bar. I am not a smoker and I do not want to eat or drink near smokers. But I respect the right of the proprietor to make the best business decision. I do not expect every restaurant to accommodate my desires, but enough of them will.

Posted by: Thomas16 | December 24, 2009 11:32 PM | Report abuse

At sometime we have to let people make their own choice where they want to eat, drink, or smoke. I suggest if you don't like the smell etc... go somewhere else. That is your right, your power. If the owners see they are loosing business then they will change. Lets not keep passing laws restricting one thing or another... be carefull, one day you will be on the outside looking in...

Posted by: Jerome3 | December 25, 2009 7:03 AM | Report abuse

For the greater public good, this article makes sense... I guess smokers have a lot of economic pull is some Virginia bars. Not all of them though, that is good.

Posted by: chrisbaxter | December 25, 2009 9:59 AM | Report abuse

Frankly what we need to do is prohibit the serving of wheat, barley or rye based products in restaurants open to the public.

That way I will never be, shall we say "surprised".

Posted by: muawiyah | December 25, 2009 2:30 PM | Report abuse

Virginia needs more entreprenuers who will open and operate restaurants that prohibit smoking everywhere. Like desegregating places, it's usually easier to open a new one than reform an old one.

Posted by: blasmaic | December 25, 2009 5:26 PM | Report abuse

The whining just never ends. Now some cry baby who of course is legally entitled to dine without smokers around him chooses to go to a pub to eat...but doesn't like the AMBIANCE of the area where he was seated.

The number of places in northern Virginia that have separate smoking areas is miniscule...with vast majority... thousands...that don't have them. But this guy had to go to one of the very rare places that does. So he could whine. Unbelievable.

Posted by: checkered1 | December 25, 2009 9:24 PM | Report abuse

Guess what? You don't speak for everybody. Tobacco is already outrageously priced due to taxes that have benefited state revenue and the price of cigarettes has more than doubled well within the last ten years. Smokers do not need for things to be more difficult. Also gone are the days of enjoying such things as concerts where one cannot even smoke within an outdoor venue. I no longer attend. We should instead enact legislation that puts a halt to those that try to enact legislation just so they can portray themselves as do-gooders. If you attend tea parties with doll collectors, don't attend a heavy metal concert.

Posted by: PostPardon | December 26, 2009 12:20 AM | Report abuse

Guess what? You don't speak for everybody. Tobacco is already outrageously priced due to taxes that have benefited state revenue and the price of cigarettes has more than doubled well within the last ten years. Smokers do not need for things to be more difficult. Also gone are the days of enjoying such things as concerts where one cannot even smoke within an outdoor venue. I no longer attend. We should instead enact legislation that puts a halt to those that try to enact legislation just so they can portray themselves as do-gooders. If you attend tea parties with doll collectors, don't attend a heavy metal concert.

Posted by: PostPardon | December 26, 2009 12:22 AM | Report abuse

I am NOT a smoker, but don't mind the new smoking laws in VA. It seems a good compromise. I no longer have to sit next to someone that smokes in a bar.

This is good, but I am not a controlling person that believes that because I DO NOT smoke -- NO ONE else should smoke either.

If I don't like the fact that someone in the bar is smoking, in a separate room, with a separate ventiliation system, and this person may or may not have a better seat or view than me... than I can go to another bar and/or restaurant.


Posted by: nllo27260 | December 26, 2009 2:20 PM | Report abuse

Breathing second-hand tobacco smoke in an enclosed area is a public health risk. Period. It should not be accommodated in any public venue where non-smokers share the same air with smokers. I, for one, applaud the new law and am sorry it does not go further to ensure that those who choose to smoke don't pollute the air that others have to breathe.

Posted by: packrat537 | December 26, 2009 8:40 PM | Report abuse

Cry me a river, you lost your, " preferred ambiance of Christmas lights, sports on TV, window views and music. " too bad. The bars are going where the money is, oh those greedy capitalists. How dare they make a profit and run their business in a manner they see fit. The government must step in and enforce a system that will cause them to lose money and you feel better about yourself. Just another self-righteous ex smoker.

Posted by: kotchg2074 | December 27, 2009 7:29 AM | Report abuse

For decades, the smokers have claimed it's their choice. I'm in favor of free choice.

*But* their addiction harms others. We don't allow drunk drivers on the roads, or Typhoid Mary to cook at a hotel. What is wrong with similarly restricting smokers to where they can only kill themselves?

Not only are the non-smoker patrons victims of their addiction; so are the staff in the bar. They have little or no choice.

Some restaurant owners claim they'll lose business; but from Beverly Hills to Takoma, the opposite has proven to be the case; with the air safe, more people who care about their health will show up.

Many other states and cities restrict smokers to where they can't harm others inc. staff; why shouldn't Virgina join those states, instead of wallowing in the past?

Posted by: j_oper | December 27, 2009 7:57 PM | Report abuse

I'm a smoker, hope I can stop someday. I totally respect others' wishes to not be exposed to second hand smoke. I guess you just have to find an establishment where you will simply not be exposed. There are plenty around I'm sure. Just please, while you are driving to your favorite place to dine, please don't tailgate cars in front of you. It's one of the rudest and most disrespectful things to do to other drivers on the road. Happy breathing!

Posted by: kingofhang | December 28, 2009 3:25 AM | Report abuse

One-by-one, little by little, personal choices are being taken away. This smacks of Prohibition which was embraced and enforced by our government with a vengence. Since it was clear the public was going to drink regardless, the federal gov finally came to its senses and repealed the outrageous law, which not only impacted distillers, brewers and retailers, but responsible American social-drinkers as well. Personal choices are what they are...personal...and nobody has the right to impose their ideas and beliefs to the point where we lose them altogether. Rather, some bars and restaurants need to step up and accommodate "smokers only" establishments. Drunk drivers on our roads do more harm and cause deadly accidents and destruction of property. However, I don't foresee Prohibition coming back for those reasons which are far more credible than someone enjoying a smoke, be it a pipe, cigar or cigarette. Anybody with half a brain can benefit by restricting their establishment to "smokers only" to keep the protesters and smoke-police at bay. Don't give up your personal choices on this issue or you'll end up not having any.

Posted by: poescrow | December 28, 2009 8:44 AM | Report abuse

Smoking may be a disgusting nuisance, and a public health hazard, but we should all be careful about regulating the behavior of others, because once you let the behavioral Nazis into the party, they're not going to stop until they've eliminated everything, including something that YOU like to do.

Hey, put out that cigarette! Put down that bacon cheeseburger! Those fatty fries -- no more! And that guy in the loud pants -- fugghedabout it! Change into a drab earth tone!

Posted by: belmostickey | December 28, 2009 9:04 AM | Report abuse

so the complaint isn't so much that the taverns and restaurants the author frequents aren't following the law, the issue the author has is that the whiners (i.e. those who have pushed to ban smokers from public venues) aren't happy that those same self-centered smokers are still allowed in the areas with nice ambience and good cheer, while the NON-smokers are the ones banished to the cold sterility of the 'non-smoking section'.

Hamner needs to get over it. Indignity after indignity has been heaped on smokers for YEARS, and now he gets to play the victim because some pub puts its smoking area where it's money is instead of catering to the aesthetic sensibilities of the occasional customer who happens not to smoke?!

Grow up, whiner.

Posted by: WilyArmadilla | December 28, 2009 10:37 AM | Report abuse

While I may not be a smoker, I do not see what is wrong with the legislation that is currently in place and why the OP has to complain. Restaurants and Bars are a business, first and foremost. Those in the HVAC business knows how difficult and expensive it will be to seperate HVAC units and provide two units where one sufficed. Now, if the business sees that smokers are the staple of its income, why should it offer the less appealing entreatments to it's main source of income. The bar and the restaurant that the OP went to is doing the entrepreneurial thing, catering to it's clientele but staying within the boundaries of the law. The OP also did what was expected...If the OP did not like the 'ambience' then he/she left. That is the consumer's right.

Posted by: paliceag | December 28, 2009 12:18 PM | Report abuse

In addition, if the OP wants to build a case against items due to health reform, the following should be banned:

1. Cheese and other items high in cholesterol (Cardiac Failures IS the number one cause of death in America)
2. Alcohol (Liver Issues)

Posted by: paliceag | December 28, 2009 12:23 PM | Report abuse

The author is complaining about a law that dramatically changes the restaurant business in VA and the personal bar habits of smokers all over the state, because he is currently inconvenienced at two locations. Is the recommendation then to change the law again, disrupt the restaurant business further, and drive more and more smokers from their neighborhood bars? This seems self-centered, to say the least.

However, he is right that the law as it stands is terrible. Either go full non-smoking or allow smoking. The current setup basically favors large chains like Bailey's, who already have the money and ventilation set up to allow smoking, while driving customers away from small neighborhood bars like Galaxy Hut, who are way too small to comply with the ventilation rule. The small ones are the ones with a majority smoking client base in the first place, and this law basically drives those customers to the big chains.

Posted by: aymill | December 28, 2009 12:47 PM | Report abuse

I completely agree with Mr. Hamner's opinion on this topic and I too hope that Virginia will make amendments to the law. I also agree that it ties directly into health issues, including health care reform.

Like others here, I also believe deeply in and staunchly support the right to make individual choices in our society. But I also believe in the countless instances where we need to legislate group rules over individual choice. I think those instances arise when too many people are choosing to exercise individual choices that are causing or have the potential to cause great harm to others. Smoking has been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt to cause great harm to others as well as to the smoker themselves.
The individual choice that remains in laws like smoking bans is a person's right to choose to smoke. The laws are only restricting the choice to smoke in areas where the smoker affects the general public.
Virginia enacting a law that allows restaurants and bars to choose to allow smoking inside doesn't really protect anyone's health. Not only does that smoke cause harm to patrons, but also to the employees who need their jobs, especially in this economy. It causes harm to children, who don't have a say, don't vote, and are relying on us adults to make good decisions as a group to reasonably protect their health. Yes, everyone has the choice to quit their restaurant jobs, avoid countless restaurants and bars that they like that are within reasonable driving distance, etc. But why all this when it can be solved by smokers simply going outside to smoke or making other accommodations for their choice? Why would smokers insist that the people who are causing no harm to the health of others quit their jobs and stay away from most restaurants and bars to accommodate their desire to smoke in public places? Maybe because smoking is addictive. I believe in and support people's right to choose to smoke, even though it compromises their health. But with that choice comes a need to satisfy that urge when it arises. That means smokers themselves are going to have to find ways to accommodate their choice, it does not mean that everyone else should need to find ways to accommodate their choice, because unlike innocuous individual lifestyle choices, smoking is a choice that compromises the health of bystanders too.

Posted by: jdVA | December 28, 2009 2:33 PM | Report abuse

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