Law takes owners’ rights

Published 10:42 pm Monday, February 23, 2009

Last week, the General Assembly passed a law, which goes into effect Dec. 1, prohibiting smoking in most restaurants in Virginia.

Proponents of the bill say smoking is an offensive, disgusting habit that should never be practiced in public. They say that people should be able to go out to eat, and people should be able to work in restaurants, without having to breathe in the secondhand smoke of people who are either too lazy or too stubborn to quit smoking.

On the other side, the opponents of the bill say that it tramples on the individual property rights of restaurant owners to decide whether they will allow smoking in their establishment. Regardless of the revolting nature of smoking, they say, it’s a choice that should be left up to owners and operators to make.

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Let me start by saying I am avidly anti-smoking. Never in my life have I heard of something as socially acceptable, and yet more repulsive and nauseating, than the habit of smoking. By now, everybody knows the effects of this vile practice. It blackens lungs, causes multiple types of cancer, makes hair and clothes smell, yellows teeth, fingers, walls and fabric, and kills thousands upon thousands of people per year. Suffice it to say that I’m much happier eating without inhaling smoke every time I open my mouth to take a bite.

However, I’m going to have to agree with the opponents of the bill this time. A government that steals rights from its citizens is nothing more than a thief. A customer who wants to eat without being assaulted by cigarette smoke is free to choose a restaurant that doesn’t allow smoking, and an employee who is bothered by smoke is free to leave that job for another – at least in a better economy.

The only thing that makes me happy this law has passed is the issue of minors. Children usually don’t have a choice in where the family eats out, and they certainly don’t have the choice to get up and leave their seat if a nearby smoker is bothering them. Smokers didn’t bother me much as a child because my own parents smoked, and I was used to it. However, since I have moved out and they’ve stopped smoking, I have become increasingly aware of how the habit bothers nearby people who aren’t accustomed to it.

Regardless of my opinions on this matter, the law will go into effect in December – unless it is challenged. Have fun eating out smoke-free!