Clearing the air

Published 9:27 pm Monday, November 30, 2009

If you’re reading this newspaper inside certain Suffolk restaurants today, you might have noticed that it’s a bit easier to see the print without the usual haze of cigarette smoke. That’s because a new state law went into effect today that bans smoking in restaurants unless the restaurants take elaborate steps to segregate smokers and their exhalations from nonsmokers, whether the nonsmokers are customers or restaurant employees.

The legislation has been inevitable for years, now, despite the state’s historic connection to the production of cigarettes, despite the obvious questions that it raised regarding property rights — the right to choose, for instance, to operate a smoking establishment, clear in the knowledge that there would be nonsmokers who refused to bring you their business.

In a further move away from libertarianism, the commonwealth chose to ignore those issues in favor of “protecting” nonsmokers’ rights to shape the environment of any building in which they choose to set foot.

At this point, the arguments are moot, as the legislation is in place and exceedingly unlikely to be repealed. Virginia’s smokers will have to learn to deal with their addiction, much as their counterparts have in other states across the nation.

The sidewalks outside of bars and restaurants, for example, will be popular again, as smokers congregate to quench that post-dinner urge. Perhaps retailers will take advantage of this semi-captive market and begin using their storefronts to sell smoker-chic.

One thing is sure. Whether they were in favor of the ban or against it (and more than a few were opposed on principle), nonsmokers will not miss the haze that greeted them in so many smoky eateries. Nor will they miss the experience of driving home smelling like an ashtray.

Welcome to Virginia, whose air is just a bit clearer.