Local Restaurant, Bar Owners Have Mixed Feelings About Proposal to Ban Smoking in Restaurants
Last week, Virginia's Senate Education and Health Committee approved Sen. Brandon Bell's (R-Roanoke County) bill to ban smoking in all restaurants and most other indoor public places.
The full Senate is now scheduled to vote on the bill, and if approved, it will move to the House on Crossover Day, which is scheduled for Tuesday. The House then would send Bell's bill to committee, which would decide whether to refer the bill to the House floor or defeat it. A House subcommittee defeated last week a bill similar to Bell's.
This will be the third year that a smoking ban has been introduced on the Senate floor. Last year, the Senate approved the bill, but it was defeated by the six-member General Laws sub-committee in the House of Delegates. To become law, a bill must pass the Senate and the House and be signed by the governor.
Currently, 20 states and Washington, D.C., have initiated a ban on smoking in restaurants and some public places.
Virginia is the nation's fourth-leading tobacco-growing state, and tobacco company Phillip Morris is headquartered in Richmond and employs about 6,000 people in Virginia.
Mark Ekert, owner of the Ashburn Pub, said he does not have a nonsmoking section at his restaurant because of limited space. The restaurant and bar has eight tables along one side and a bar on the other side.
"I don't smoke and if they passed the law, it wouldn't hurt my feelings as long as everyone had to abide by it," Ekert said. "But I can't go nonsmoking because I have too many customers that smoke."
Ekert is also a partner in the South Riding Inn, another local restaurant and bar, and his business partner, Steve Pasquale, two weeks ago initiated a smoking ban from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the inn.
"We are trying to please both sides of the argument," Pasquale said. "We wanted to allow a time for families to have smoke-free dining, and while it was still allowed or legal in Virginia, after 8 p.m. we allow the smokers to enjoy their time as well."
The South Riding Inn is open until 2 a.m. and is twice the size of the Ashburn Pub. Pasquale said they had a nonsmoking section, but because of the lack in space he was still receiving complaints.
He said he knew he had to stay competitive with bigger restaurants in his neighborhood and because the restaurant's ventilation systems did not clear the smoke well enough to satisfy his nonsmoking customers, they decided to ban smoking during certain hours.
Pasquale said he was concerned he would lose business, but that has not happened so far.
"I've had to explain to the smokers and my regulars, and they were very understanding for the most part," Pasquale said. "I was very shocked by how understanding the smokers have been."
Since the ban started, he said he has seen an increase in his lunch business and an increase of families coming in for dinner.
"Most of my colleagues are on the other side of this issue, understandably so, because we have people we see on a regular basis come into the bar that we don't want to alienate, but we also have to consider the others, and again I think the majority are nonsmokers," Pasquale said.
However, Pasquale said he would not completely ban smoking at his business, unless it were a state requirement. He said such a ban would make him uncompetitive with his night crowd.
Jimmy Cirrito, owner of Jimmy's Old Town Tavern in Herndon, said he opposes a smoking ban.
"We are situated in the middle of historic Herndon with very limited sidewalk space and the doors are very small because of its historic foundation," Cirrito said. "There will be no where for these people to go. They will be standing in the middle of Elden Street and Spring Street in circles smoking. I don't think that is what historic Herndon is looking for."
Cirrito said he would have an average of 50 people smoking outside at any given time throughout the night and he does not know where they would all fit. He said he is also confident a smoking ban would hurt his business.
"They'll be on the sidewalk smoking, littering, throwing cigarette butts all over the place, and they will not be inside eating and drinking," he said.
Cirrito, a nonsmoker, said he hates smoking, but he loves his freedom more.
"This country was built on freedom for small businesses like me to create their own policies," he said.