Smoke-free eateries

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December 5, 2007

10:22 PM

Secondhand smoke is a perfect example of a negative externality.
Anyone who has taken economics knows what I’m talking about. It basically means that an individual imposes an uncompensated cost on the rest of society.

p. Walking through a smothering cloud of cigarette smoke and coming out coughing and teary-eyed is not my idea of a great dining experience. Nor is having a terrible fit of ceaseless sneezes because of a couple guys in the back smoking cigars.

p. Although smoking sections designate an area for smokers, the smoke still spreads throughout the restaurant, irritating waiters and customers alike, including young children.

p. To prevent this problem, various cities in Virginia, including Williamsburg, are currently contemplating a ban on smoking in restaurants and bars. Norfolk has already imposed smoking restrictions while Newport News and Suffolk are in the process of implementing such policies.

p. Everyone knows the damaging effects of secondhand smoke and, in a contained public environment, these effects are especially intensified. Waiters have to maneuver through the restaurant for prolonged shifts, increasing their susceptibility to such detrimental effects. Since family restaurants often attract customers with young children, secondhand smoke can lead to coughing and sneezing, further jeopardizing their health.

p. As in all issues, however, this one has a potential downside. The city is lukewarm on such a policy because restaurant owners are reluctant to forgo their share of smoking customers. In addition, according to a Nov. 23 article in the Daily Press, the Williamsburg city council “only has jurisdiction over the city’s restaurants even if plenty of eateries in the counties use Williamsburg addresses.” This means that there will be a disparity between the number of dining facilities that are allowed to have smoking sections and those that are not.

p. Still, as Sam Sutton’s article “City to consider smoking ban in restaurants” in the Nov. 30 issue of The Flat Hat reported, it seems that many local restaurants, such as the Green Leafe Cafe, do not foresee any negative side-effects from the proposed ban, and view it as a change for a healthier restaurant experience.

p. For a while, there may be resistance to banning smoking sections, but as with all changes, time will help the adjustment. Change may not be as drastic in some places as in others, but it is a step to a safer and cleaner lifestyle for everyone.

p. I talked to another student about the proposed ban and he came up with a crude, but surprisingly useful analogy. “Having a reserved smoking section in a restaurant,” he said. “is like having a reserved peeing section in the pool.” His comparison shows why the proposed ban on smoking is such a good idea: It stops a few people’s smoke from irritating everyone else.

p. In theory, at least, the ban would eliminate this negative externality.

p. __Kalyani Phansalkar is a freshman at the College.__

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