Friday, February 15, 2008

Smoking and Restaurants Redux

Well, it appears that the defenders of our freedoms have derailed legislation to ban smoking in restaurants and bars again this year. This is the fourth year in a row in which the few and the brave, who uphold your and my right to sicken and possibly kill the people at the next table, have triumphed. Obviously to these lovers of liberty—the Republican members of a House of Delegates subcommittee—the right of bar and restaurant owners to choose for themselves whether to allow smoking, and the right of smokers to continue to pollute the indoor air other diners breathe, is far more important than the health of nonsmokers being gassed by second hand smoke.

Some weeks back, I proposed a win-win solution to the smoking dilemma by suggesting a law that would require bar and restaurant owners to choose whether to be all smoking or all non-smoking. I thought that with such a solution the market would decide whether the proprietor chose to allow or disallow smoking. No business would be forced to ban smoking. Alas, possibly because of my limited circulation, no one picked up on my advice. Don’t think, however, that failure will discourage this maven.

I am a smoker who quit. In my youth I puffed and puffed because I thought it was cool. I remember when I started smoking. I was probably only about thirteen. My friends and I had a smoking party. Each of us bought one pack of cigarettes (actually the oldest of us purchased all of them with our money) and dumped the contents in a big bowl. Then we sat around playing pinochle and chain smoking cigarettes of random brands until the bowl was empty. (I bet the four of us cut down our collective life spans by at least twenty years that night.) In my twenties I switched from cigarettes to a pipe and finally, when I had children, I quit smoking completely. All those years of smoking, however, have affected me.When I am exposed to cigarette smoke I get a nasty headache and start feeling nauseous.

The maveness and I reside south of the James and the restaurants we frequent are mostly down here. Early after moving to Richmond, we decided to try out O’Toole’s, an Irish bar and restaurant on Forest Hill Avenue. O’Toole’s, like most restaurants in the city back then had separate smoking and non-smoking sections. Unfortunately, the two sections were separated only by space and smoke filled most of the restaurant. Long before our meal was served I was feeling sick from the smoke. I really don’t remember how the food was. My wife and I never went back . . . until last night.

Well, the owners of O’toole’s have become enlightened and made their establishment smoke free throughout. So, yesterday, Mr. and Mrs. Maven decided to try it again. It was a delightful dining experience; not only was the food good but I didn’t leave feeling sick. And, by the way, the ban on smoking didn’t seem to affect business; the place was crowded.

Another restaurant we like to visit is Liberty Valance, also on Forest Hill Avenue. When either the maveness or I start having that craving for red meat we go to Liberty Valance for steaks or barbecued beef ribs. Unfortunately, the owners of Liberty Valance have not seen the light. They still have separate smoking and non-smoking sections. Recently when we went to Liberty Valance the smell of smoke reached our table and I could notice the headache starting. We mentioned this to the server and suggested that the restaurant become smoke free. She said the owner was afraid of losing customers. Unfortunately, my love for Liberty Valance was diminished by our last visit and I’m not sure I’ll go back as long as they allow smoking.

Which leads me to my new suggestion. Why don’t all the non-smokers in Metro Richmond publicly declare a boycott of restaurants or bars that allow smoking? As indicated in the articles both in the TD and the Washington Post this morning, restaurant proprietors say they can’t ban smoking without a law requiring it because they fear losing customers. Well, why don’t we the non-smokers make it quite clear to them that merely setting up non-smoking sections is not enough. Let’s tell them that so long as they continue to permit smoking they will lose customers—us. Let them know that they just have to choose between the smokers and non-smokers. Let’s make it clear that we will no longer expose ourselves to discomfort and possible sickness just to eat or drink at their establishment. This may result in a bit of inconvenience for us. But unless we make it clear that allowing smoking will cost them more customers then will banning it, proprietors will continue to think they can have it both ways.


Anonymous said...

your post proves that there is no need for a ban. These establishments chose to go non-smoking to meet a need they saw in the market. I am not a smoker, but if the smoke bothers me, I will do what you and your wife did...go to another restaurant.

Anonymous said...

We went to Liberty Valance once and gagged ourselves out of there. And they act like they're family-friendly. Shameful.

Not only do we need to just visit non-smoking restaurants, we also need to tell the proprietors of the smoke-friendly restaurants WHY we are choosing to go somewhere else. They need to get the message before they can change.

Is there a website anywhere that lists the nonsmoking restaurants in Richmond?

Anonymous said...

Environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) causes disease in non-smokers. Workplace bans on smoking are interventions to reduce exposure to ETS to try to prevent harmful health effects. The Irish Government on the 29th March 2004 introduced the first national comprehensive legislation banning smoking in all workplaces including bars and restaurants.