Virginia - most restaurants in compliance with smoking ban..

August 29, 2010 - Tuesday, December 1, 2009 Virginia's no smoking ban in most bars and restaurants will take effect (unless they have a separate room with a separate ventilation system for smokers). Ten things to know about Virginia’s smoking ban in restaurants no smoking symbol, VA Dept of Health (VDH), Breath Easy Virginia, Va.

It took four years of pushing by the administration of then-Democratic Gov. Timothy M. Kaine in a state that is home not only to numerous tobacco farms in Southside Virginia but also the world's largest cigarette factory.

However, it wasn't enforced until earlier this month (August), when the Falls Church, Va. Police Department issued 13 citations at Eden Center businesses - nine to customers for smoking inside a restaurant and four to business owners for allowing people to light up. The penalty is not severe - a $25 fine. But Dylan Nguyen, manager of the Tay Do restaurant at Eden Center, said aggressive enforcement is cutting business by more than 20 percent.

Falls Church police said they issued tickets only after multiple complaints and warnings. And most agencies have higher priorities than writing out citations that carry a small fine, said Dana Schrad, executive director for the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police.

Since the law took effect, health department inspectors have checked more than 24,000 bars and restaurants as part of the normal inspection process, said Gary Hagy, director of food and environmental services at the Virginia Department of Health. More than 97 percent of establishments are in compliance with the law, Hagy said. Hagy calls that a success, but more than 600 restaurants and bars across the state have not complied with the law. Hagy said that while many of those 600-plus restaurants are working to get legal - perhaps by establishing a separately ventilated smoking section - others have said they don't plan to follow the law.

And Hagy's office can't do much about it. While officials can shut down a restaurant if it violates the health codes for, say, storing foods at improper temperatures, they cannot enforce the smoking ordinance. Health officials can only refer cases to police for possible enforcement.

Virginia is among 39 states that have passed laws barring smoking in certain indoor workplaces, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, though the laws vary greatly in terms of their exemptions. But the $25 fine imposed by Virginia is among the weakest penalties. (Some restaurants have told us a $25 fine is not worth losing their smoking customers. So state Senator Ralph Northam, (D) - Virginia Beach, who sponsored the law, tell us he plans to try to increase the fine and clarify how law officers can enforce it. (Some restaurants snubbing the smoking ban,, 3/4/2010)

References: Tobacco-friendly clubs at heart of Va. smoking ban by MATTHEW BARAKAT, Bloomberg Busines Week, 8/27/2010; Virginia's smoking ban sparks ire at shopping center, Associated Press, 8/29, 2010.

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