Members of the Virginia Senate, the upper house of the commonwealth’s General Assembly, are currently debating a bill which would ban smoking in all restaurants, unless owners displayed prominent “smoking permitted” signs at every entrance.
p. Here at the College, where the campus alcohol policy generally pushes students to drink off campus, particularly at the delis, the issue of smoking in bars and restaurants is particularly relevant.
Regardless of whether the bill ever reaches the desk of Gov. Kaine, the City of Williamsburg and local business owners should take the initiative to prohibit smoking in restaurants. While deli and restaurant owners may fear losing the business of smoking patrons, collective action by the city and these establishments will not only create a healthier and safer atmosphere, but will also minimize inconveniences for all persons involved.
p. Particularly at the delis, where patrons regularly enjoy food along with their drinks, a crowded and smoky atmosphere makes the entire experience less enjoyable. With warmer weather approaching, and generally favorable year-round temperatures, stepping outside for a cigarette is hardly an inconvenience when compared to constant exposure to second-hand smoke. These businesses would lose few patrons, considering the monopoly that the delis currently hold on local nightlife.
p. Given the recent ban on smoking in state buildings, a law which took effect Jan. 1 of this year and includes campus residence halls, the College must continue its efforts to make the campus and the surrounding area safer for students. The administration’s crackdown on student on-campus drinking has encouraged, if not forced, students to seek off-campus social opportunities and alleviated the school’s liability concerns in relation to alcohol consumption. However, the College still possesses a paramount responsibility to facilitate and ensure the well-being and happiness of students, and smoke-free delis would be in direct alignment with this responsibility.
p. Of course, there is only so much the College can do. Although there are few concerns that are more understandable or valid for local business owners than losing revenue and customers, deli managers nonetheless have several incentives to take action on this issue. Students are not only some of the most frequent visitors to the delis, but generally account for a sizable percentage of wait staff and servers as well. Smoke-free establishments would be cleaner, more comfortable and more accommodating to a variety of people, as well as producing a healthier and more energetic staff.
p. Ultimately, if the bill does not pass in the Senate, the burden of this issue will fall squarely on the shoulders of the City of Williamsburg. The concept is by no means a new one. Smoking bans have been implemented and have proven effective in a large number of American cities, including New York, Chicago, Birmingham and Washington, D.C. Smoking is banned in all restaurants in 19 states, and even in those states that have not banned smoking, there are several examples of cities or counties choosing to implement their own bans. Alarmingly enough, Virginia is one of only five states, along with Tennessee, New Hampshire, Oklahoma and Iowa, where there is not a single municipality that has passed complete smoking restrictions in restaurants and bars.
p. Even for a state built on tobacco, this is simply unacceptable. Known worldwide for its historical significance, Williamsburg is now presented with another chance to make history by becoming the catalyst for a state-wide movement to improve health conditions. We hope the city will not let this opportunity go up in smoke.