Everyone reading this column should sit down before they go further.
Because something astounding happened the other day in this tobacco state.
Police in Falls Church cited nine smokers in restaurants. Gave them tickets that carry $25 fines. They cited some bar employees, too.
The police actually enforced the law, even though it has been on the books only nine months.
That’s more than they have done in the Roanoke Valley — or in other parts of Virginia — under the restaurant smoking ban since it took effect Dec. 1.
Gary Hagy, director of the Food and Environmental Services Division for the Virginia Department of Health, told me the tickets issued in Falls Church were the first anywhere in the state.
1) Bans indoor smoking in all Virginia restaurants;
2) Provides exceptions for restaurants with a walled off and separately ventilated smoking area;
3) Also requires that any restaurant with a smoking area have at least one entrance from the outside to its nonsmoking area.
Many restaurateurs spent significant sums to comply with the ban, and Hagy said that at least 93 percent of the state’s 24,000 restaurants are complying.
But that still leaves almost 1,700 that aren’t. And you don’t have to search long to find them.
One is W.R. Brews on Williamson Road Northeast. I went in there around lunchtime Tuesday.
It’s a one-room joint with a bar and tables and some half-wall dividers here and there.
On the bar and at nearly every table were large round ashtrays (I counted 22) and some patrons, of course, were smoking.
“Do you have a nonsmoking area?” I asked the bartender.
“We don’t.” She shrugged. “Not at the moment. It’s in the works.”
The ban is 9 months old and it’s in the works?
W.R. Brews owner Roger Lamm didn’t respond to a message I left for him at the restaurant on Wednesday.
A different kind of game is being played in Southwest Roanoke over at the Coffee Pot, one of my favorite local establishments (except for the smoke).
The exterior door opens to a small, 8-foot-long foyer. You walk through that and another door to get into the bar/restaurant/pool-table areas.
Owner Carroll Bell put a single small table in the foyer. That is the nonsmoking area.
Smoking is allowed in the pool room, the bar and (at night) in its adjacent large dining area.
“What about separate ventilation?” I asked Bell on Wednesday.
He pointed to a 3-inch-wide hole he’d drilled in the foyer’s wall next to the outside door.
“Come on,” I said. “That’s a dodge.”
“I didn’t dodge,” Bell said. “I just did the minimum required to be compliant with the law.”
He noted the law establishes no minimum size for a nonsmoking area.
W.R. Brews seems to be violating the letter of the law, while the Coffee Pot is certainly violating its spirit.
That’s unfair to all the restaurateurs who have jumped through hoops to adhere to both, but it’s not hard to understand why they’re getting away with it.
Police in Salem, Roanoke and Roanoke County haven’t issued a single smoking citation to a restaurant patron or employee since the law went into effect nine months ago.
Salem and Roanoke police said they’ve had no complaints. Roanoke County had a single complaint, in February, that was canceled before an officer could get to the restaurant in question.
Hagy, from the Virginia Department of Health, says its restaurant inspectors can’t issue citations. Only law enforcement officers can.
Under circumstances such as this, flouting of the law will continue. So will creative sidesteps.
The police should do something about the former. The General Assembly should do something about the latter.
But don’t hold your breath waiting for either.