Come Dec. 1, Virginia will join a growing number of states banning smoking in restaurants (except for private clubs, outdoor seating, and designated smoking areas in a separate room from the main dining area, in Virginia’s case).
My colleague, Jenny Kincaid Boone, has a story on what the change means in the Sunday, Sept. 27, Roanoke Times.
As part of that, we decided to look at which places had the farthest to go to become smoke-free. I obtained from the Virginia Department of Health, the agency that inspects restaurants, data including the smoking status of more than 16,000 full-service and fast-service restaurants in Virginia.
And it turns out that statewide, some 70 percent of those restaurants are already non-smoking. And the Roanoke and New River Valleys are just about there, too, with about 68 percent of restaurants smoke-free.
(One caveat about the data: the smoking status is based on what was recorded during a health department inspection, and some of the dates on these status are months old, and might have changed.)
We took the data and stuck it on a map to see just where the stragglers are. Now, 16,000 restaurants is a lot of points to map, so we rolled the data up into percentages for each city and county, and that’s what you’ll find on the map. It’s a cool interactive, and you can make all sorts of changes to it, including changing which data is shown on the map. There are instructions at the bottom of the page.
It struck me that, really, there aren’t any dramatic and obvious patterns to where non-smoking restaurants are. I thought maybe rural areas would have fewer non-smoking places. But look at Craig County. It has five restaurants, and all are smoke-free. Look at the Shenendoah Valley. The whole spine of it has a high percentage of non-smoking restaurants. My best guess on that is that it’s influenced by Interstate 81, and the number of fast-food restaurants near interchanges. Fast food restaurants are routinely smoke-free these days.
Switch the map over to the percentage of restaurants which allow smoking in all areas. No great pattern there, either. I thought that the high percentages might correspond with heavy tobacco producing communities, but except for Pittsylvania County, that theory isn’t really born out.
But maybe you’ll see things that we missed. As always, let us know.