By James Cullum
More than two years ago, the Alexandria City Council began lobbying the General Assembly to ban smoking in public restaurants. During the 2009 session, the legislature finally agreed and made no smoking in restaurants the law of the Commonwealth. Today, that law took effect.
“This is a big day for the health of Virginians,” said Virginia Governor Tim Kaine, who spoke to a group of reporters, patrons and staff at the now smoke-free Chadwick’s restaurant in Old Town. “I’m not particularly worried about enforcement. We’ve got Virginia Department of Health employees who will visit restaurants and bars in the Commonwealth every day and this is an issue that has been extensively studied. It’s been determined that it has no effect of restaurant revenues.”
Kaine said that the smoking ban will help a restaurant’s bottom line. “The cost of insurance is lower… Workers comp rates are lower and productivity is higher,” he said.
Some business owners and managers are concerned about enforcing the smoking ban. “I know restaurants who are going to continue with smoking until they get caught. I just don’t know how anyone will police it,” said the manager of an Alexandria restaurant who spoke anonymously.
The new law eliminates smoking in nearly all Virginia restaurants, with some exceptions. Smoking is only allowed in:
- Any restaurant located on the premises of any manufacturer of tobacco products.
- Any outdoor area of a restaurant, with or without a roof covering, provided the outdoor area is not enclosed by temporary enclosures.
- A structurally separate area from the non-smoking areas of the restaurant with separate air ventilation systems.
- An establishment where there is at least one public entrance into an area where smoking is not permitted.
- Private clubs.
According to the VDH, secondhand smoke is responsible for as many as 1040 adult deaths per year in Virginia. It is estimated that the Commonwealth spends $105.3 million a year on health care related to exposure to second hand smoke.
Kaine was accompanied by Virginia Secretary of Health and Human Resources Marilyn Tavenner. “Smoke-free dining protects public health, makes good business sense, improves our quality of life and will help all Virginians to breathe easy,” she said.
During restaurant inspections, VDH will check that ashtrays and other smoking paraphernalia are removed and that “no smoking” signs are displayed. The health department will also check to see if anyone is smoking outside of a smoke free area and if a restaurant’s smoking area is lawfully separated.
“About two years ago, the City Council asked restaurants to become smoke-free voluntarily and all but 77 of Alexandria’s 400 or so restaurants did so,” said Bob Custard, the Environmental Health Manager for the Alexandria Health Department. “Of those, only five to ten have indicated to us that they intend to continue to allow smoking on their premises. Some of those restaurants already have completely separate areas with separate ventilation systems so they are all set. Some others have indicated that they have submitted plans to come into compliance with the new law.
“Given the amount of voluntary cooperation, we don’t really believe their will be an enforcement issue in Alexandria. However, if a health inspector finds a violation, that inspector will notify law enforcement officials who have the authority to issue a summons. The fine for a violation is $25, which must be paid into the Virginia Healthcare Fund. It is up to the law enforcement officer who to fine, the restaurant owner or the smoker,” Custard said.
“It’s the end of a social era, and it’s certainly bad for us smokers,” said Leighann Behrens, as she smoked a cigarette and played cards in the smoking section of Misha’s Coffeehouse and Coffee Roaster on South Patrick Street yesterday. “I’ve been coming here a year, five days a week. It won’t be the same. I’ll be outside smoking a cigarette. There’s just something American about smoking and having a cup of coffee.”
Sitting next to Behrens, Larry Quetsch was less philosophical. “It’ll put a wrinkle in my style for a day or two, but I’m not going to get depressed about it. There’s a whole lot in the world that I could worry about. I’m just glad I can put my pants on.”
Today, Landini Brothers held a meeting for their regular, cigar-smoking customers to announce the addition of a cigar club. After paying a fee, club members will ride an elevator to the second floor where they can smoke to their heart’s desire.
“We have a great clientÃ¨le and provide great service and people have to eat somewhere,” said Gery Slavovska, manager at Landini Bros. “We’re not worried about losing business.”
Stephen Mann is manager at Shooter McGee’s on Duke Street. “I’m a little worried. I don’t think anyone will tell you it’s a good thing,” he said. “It’s going to hurt our business for sure. Now, if people want to go to a bar and have a smoke, they go a mile down the road to Clyde’s, where they do allow smoking. It’s 20 percent of our business, right out the door.”
Linda Farmer is the bar manager of Ramparts Tavern and Grill, which will continue to have a smoking section. Big screen televisions accentuate the bar area, making the location ideal for watching football. Ramparts has same owner as Shooter McGhee’s. “I think Clyde’s is going to be our main competition,” she said. “If people need a place to come to drink and smoke, they can come here. A lot of our best customers are smokers.”
The smoking ban “might even bring in more business to businesses that allow smoking. After all, where can you go and get a cigarette and a drink?” said Vilma Rains, a Ramparts regular.
Next to Rains sat former smoker Gary Holmes. “I think you put the ban all into effect or nothing. You don’t pass a law that says: ‘You can kind of ban this,’” he said. “This is a great joint, but it’s too smoky in here.”