Smokeless Tuesday: Gov. Kaine kicks off smoking ban
For 400 years, smokers in Virginia have been able to light up in bars and restaurants, but all that came to an end on Tuesday, December 1, when the state’s smoking ban went into effect. Virginia Governor Tim Kaine celebrated the historic event at Hamiltons' at First & Main, one of only three restaurants in the state where Kaine spoke.
“Bill and Kate Hamilton have been real leaders. Their restaurant has been smoke-free for 14 years," said the governor, adding that he has always enjoyed eating at Hamilton’s.
Indeed, when Hamiltons' opened in February 1996, the idea of a smoke-free restaurant, especially in a tobacco state, was rare if not unique.
“We actually turned heads being a full service restaurant without smoking,” says Bill Hamilton. "Many folks," said his wife, Kate, "bet against our ability to maintain it for long.”
Over a decade later, smoke-free restaurants in Charlottesville are hardly unique, a trend that may have made the ban possible. As Kaine, and others in the decidedly anti-smoking crowd gathered at Hamilton’s said, decades of growing evidence of the harmful effects of smoking, particularly second-hand smoke, has created a sea change.
In 2006, Kaine successfully banned smoking in public buildings. The following year, he amended a watered down bill designed to affix what amounted to a Surgeon General’s Warning on restaurant windows with an all out ban on smoking in restaurants.
However, like so many bans introduced in the home state of Richmond-based tobacco company Philip Morris, the bill joined the legislative scrap heap. But Kaine kept pushing, and in February 2009 the General Assembly finally passed a compromise, which would allow smoking in private clubs, on outdoor patios, and in restaurants with separately ventilated rooms. The ban also comes with a tame fine for smokers and restaurants who defy the law, just $25.
“This has been a dream that we thought would never happen in a tobacco state,” said Dr. Thomas Eppes, a past president of the Medical Society of Virginia, who said that second-hand smoke kills 1,700 Virginians every year.
Meanwhile, over at Miller’s, where smoke from people lighting up on the front patio wafted toward Governor Kaine and his handlers as they strolled by, Dr. Eppes' dream is a big pain in the butt.
While Miller’s manager Anna Harris was busy putting up a no smoking sign on the front door, the wording hardly embraces the ban: "Miller’s Downtown will be non-smoking until further notice (It won’t be long)." Harris says Miller's plans to build out the second floor, which has a separate entrance, and make it non-smoking, which would allow the downstairs to retain its smoke, a renovation that should be complete in January.
“For us it’s tradition; its part of Miller’s 30-year history,” says Harris. “The laws will probably change, and we’ll be forced to stop, but for now we’ll try to keep things the same.”
Besides, Harris asks, looking around the classic, dimly lit bar and stage area where Dave Matthews and countless other musicians got their starts as the beer flowed and the cigarettes burned late into the night, “What kind of non-smokers are going to come here?”
Last call: Smoke 'em if you got 'em, nevermore
On the Sunday night before smokeless Tuesday, Fellini's was packed with fans of the Hogwaller Ramblers, who were notified on Facebook that it would be the last time to enjoy the band and a smoke at the same time, according to manager Steve Nottingham.
"It's disappointing," says Nottingham, who appreciates the appeal of a drink and a cigarette. Yet even as a smoker, he acknowledges that it can be a relief to not work eight hours in a smoke-filled room. "Some nights, yeah," he says.
"I don't care either way," said Miller’s bartender Jenna Carter. "I only smoke when I'm drinking." With the smoking ban, she was poised to quit, but if Miller's maintains a smoking section, she says, "I don't have to."
Carter has lived in California and New York, both of which have banned indoor public smoking for years. "At least in Charlottesville, we don't have three feet of snow if you've got to go outside," she points out.
On Blue Light Grill's last smoke-allowed night at the bar, no one was smoking amid a crowd of men with name tags, and hostess Kristen Bowden welcomed the prospect of no longer dealing with complaints from diners seated at tables nearby.
"We get a lot of people from New York," said Bowen, "and they say, 'You can still smoke here?'"
–-night-before-ban content by Lisa Provence