Thursday, March 1, 2007

Why the Smoking Ban Makes Liberals Sound Like Conservatives (and Vice Versa)

Just as states have acted while the federal government has idled on climate change, Virginia communities aren't waiting for the state to catch up to shifting public sentiment on smoking bans. As the Washington Post reports today, Alexandria has come up with a radical solution:

Frustrated that the state legislature failed to ban smoking in bars and restaurants, Alexandria officials have come up with a maverick plan of their own that would prohibit smoking in all new eateries and make it more difficult for existing establishments to allow people to light up.

The unusual proposal would use the city's zoning authority to mandate smoke-free restaurants.

If successful, Alexandria would become the first jurisdiction to bar restaurant smoking in Virginia, where the state legislature severely limits local authority. That means individual governments do not have the power to institute outright smoking bans in restaurants and bars, such as those adopted in the District and several Maryland jurisdictions.

So Alexandria has decided to use its limited powers to achieve the same result.

A recent poll showed 71% of Virginians support a statewide smoking ban, with a full 60% strongly supporting a ban. That's probably a region-wide sentiment, as similar numbers have been found in Maryland, where seven in ten voters want a statewide smoking ban. And for the first time in the nation's history, more than half of Americans live in a city or state with laws mandating workplaces, restaurants or bars be smoke-free, according to Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights.

It's usually liberals calling for broad mandates and conservatives urging local control. But in this case, it's Democratic Mayor Bill Euille asking for his community to be able to make its own decision, while Republicans in the General Assembly bitterly refuse to give up power and hang on to the statewide ban on smoking bans. If communities had local control over decisions over smoking bans, I wouldn't be fighting so hard for a statewide ban.

Do Republicans only support local control when it's in their best interests? A comment from an Alexandria pub owner is instructive:
"I don't like it. I'd be against it," said Pat Troy, who owns an Old Town pub where smoking is allowed in the bar and on patios. "I want to stand up for people who want a cigarette or a smoke. The rights are being taken from people right and left. After a while, we'll have no rights left."
Is it really rights that Mr. Troy is so concerned about? If that's the case, why doesn't he fight for the rights of the 80% of Virginians who are nonsmokers? I guess our right to breathe clean air is less important than smokers' right to smoke whereever and whenever they please. If you think Pat Troy's is taking the wrong stand, please email them!

The Washington Times had an article this week with several DC bars
claiming a loss of business due to DC's smoking ban. It makes a watertight case that lacks just one thing: Any numbers showing a single DC bar has lost business from January/February 2006 to January/February 2007. Do bars not keep track of sales, or did the reporter just not ask? Usually best to avoid details that could hurt the central thesis of the article. Oh, and it would also help if they had a shred of even anecdotal evidence Virginia has seen any increase in business due to DC's smoking ban. Other than that, great reporting as always from that paragon of journalism, the Washington Times.

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