I always thought that Virginia would be one of the last states in the US to get a state-wide ban on smoking in restaurants/public places. This is one of the most tobacco-friendly states (that produces a huge amount of it), where several big tobacco companies are based, and it's always been behind the times on tobacco laws. We had the nation's lowest cigarette tax until just a few years ago.
But, a few days ago, it passed. And I, for one, couldn't be happier.
It always surprises me to see where some of the opposition to these bans comes from; in addition to the smokers themselves, many rather liberal-minded non-smokers I've talked to also feel that restaurants should be free to allow smoking in their establishments if they want to. I see the logic; there are a ton of things people are allowed to do in restaurants (or anywhere else), in the name of personal freedom, so why should smoking cigarettes be any different?
The reason it should be different is that, in an open room, smoke permeates the entire room, and a smoker's right to smoke in such an environment interferes with my right to breathe. The people I hear supporting smoker's rights are typically the same people who insist that the rights of one group must not trample the rights of another group. So, could someone explain to me why the right of someone to fill a public room with dangerous, sickening fumes on a whim should trample my right to breathe clean air and not have to dig for an inhaler?
Now, I do agree with the anti-ban group on one point; ideally, the restaurant owners should be the ones to decide. And, some have, there are a handful of restaurants in the town I live in that are already smoke-free. But, the vast majority allow smoking because they feel they have to, or it's the way things have always been, or any number of other idiotic reasons, and without legislation to enforce this, it's unlikely to change anytime soon. In the meantime, those of us who want to see all you smokers set yourselves on fire have to do constant research to figure out where we can and can't go to eat in peace, while smokers can go to any restaurant they want. Yes, that's right, if you're a smoker, you can still go to a non-smoking restaurant, just don't smoke in the damn building! See how easy that is? Personally, I don't see why smokers don't do that anyway, I can't imagine food tastes very good mixed with smoke, but that's beside the point.
And for all the restaurant owners who are worried that this will affect their business? Chill. Seriously. Plenty of states have passed far more restrictive smoking bans than Virginia's new one (it's still rather lax, for my tastes, but at least I'll be able to go to late-night places for a change), and the world didn't end. In fact, some of you will probably get better business from people like me. You'll probably get some whiners at first, but they'll get used to it; they can either go outside like they'd have to do at any other sane business (hotels, hospitals, grocery stores, movie theaters...), or you can stick 'em in a glass jar like they do at airports. You have more to worry about if you try to circumvent the new law, because I'm sure I'm not the only one who'll have the health department in their speed-dial once this goes into effect.
*takes a deep breath*
I realize that what I wrote is going to upset some people. And, well, I don't care. I'm not typically a very divisive or hate-filled person, but every time I go out for a nice meal and gag on a whiff of burning tobacco, I have seething urge to find the culprit and make them eat the damn cigarette. It's the same instinct that makes me want to destroy every cellphone that lights up or makes noise in the theater, or think up new recipes for dead child every time I hear a screaming baby in a public venue. We all have anger-buttons, those are mine. Cigarettes, cellphones, and yowling babies.
So, despite the fact that the new law is somewhat half-assed, congratulations to Virginia for passing it. You've finally sorta-caught up to every state north of us.