Smoke ‘em while you can

Published 9:03 pm Saturday, November 28, 2009

It’s Friday night at the Oysterette restaurant in downtown Suffolk, and friends David Brookes and Bill Whalen puff away on Marlboro Lights at the bar, enjoying one of their last days of being able to smoke in the eatery.

On Tuesday, a statewide ban on smoking in restaurants goes into effect, and many establishments already have begun prohibiting customers from smoking.

Not at the Oysterette, said manager Mary Glisson.

Glisson is not happy about the upcoming ban, and she intends to continue allowing smoking through Monday.

“Now we’re going to have them going outside to smoke, throwing cigarette butts all over the ground,” Glisson said.

The new law, which was passed by the Virginia General Assembly in its last session, allows restaurateurs to construct portions of the restaurant that are structurally separated and separately ventilated from the rest of the restaurant. At least one door into the restaurant must enter into a nonsmoking area. Glisson said that such a setup is not possible at the Oysterette, so the only option is to disallow smoking completely.

“There’s no way we can do a separate room, separate ventilation system, separate door,” she said. “We’re not set up for that.”

Glisson, who is a smoker, also is concerned about the new law making it easier for people to leave without paying.

“They can run out on a tab very easily,” Glisson said. “They can just say, ‘I’m going out to smoke,’ and down the street they go.”

“If we don’t know them, it’s got to be pay as you go.”

Smoking also is allowed, by law, in private clubs, outdoor areas that are not enclosed by screened walls or roll-up doors, portions of a restaurant that are used exclusively for private functions, as long as they meet the ventilation and structure requirements, and restaurants on the premises of tobacco product manufacturers.

Smokers and Oysterette customers Brookes and Whalen said the law violates civil rights and legislates common courtesy.

“I have respect for nonsmokers,” Brookes said. “If I see my smoke going in their face, I put it out. I don’t want to smell smoke while I’m eating either.”

Brookes said the law shouldn’t be a clean sweep, but rather should be evaluated by the health department on a case-by-case basis.

“It’s a thing not everybody’s happy with,” Brookes said, noting that the law will encourage patrons under the influence of alcohol to smoke outside, putting them on the street.

“The government’s taking our rights away from us,” Whalen said. “They’re controlling us.”

Whalen added that potential diners could choose what restaurants to patronize based on whether they allow smoking.

“You have a choice what business you walk into,” Whalen said. “That’s the bottom line.”

According to the law, restaurant owners and managers cannot require wait staff or bus staff to work in smoking areas unless the employees give consent. In addition, all restaurants must post no-smoking signs and remove ashtrays and other smoking paraphernalia by Tuesday. Those that do not comply face a fine of $25, as do customers who smoke in no-smoking areas. The fines will be paid into the Virginia Health Care Fund, which is used for Medicaid payments, disease diagnosis, community health services and other public health projects.

Not all smokers, however, are angry about the new law. Oysterette customer and smoker Joshua Hubbard admitted smoking is a bad habit.

“I feel that somebody should be able to come in a place without breathing in smoke and going home to their wife smelling like smoke,” Hubbard said. “Don’t nobody deserve that. We shouldn’t have to suffer the consequences of somebody else’s bad habit.”

The American Cancer Society is celebrating the legislative victory by holding a “Dining to Donate” benefit at the Applebee’s restaurant at 1206 N. Main St. Applebee’s will donate 10 percent of its pre-tax receipts between 5:30 and 8:30 p.m. Tuesday to the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life.

Diners should print out the flyer available at the Suffolk Rockin’ Relay for Life Web site and bring it with them to have the donation credited to the American Cancer Society. Visit www.suffolkrockinrelay.org and click on “Team Fundraising” on the left.