- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 10, 2009

VIRGINIA BEACH

As of December, most smoking will be snuffed out in restaurants and bars in Virginia, a state where the tobacco legacy stretches 400 years from Jamestown to the Marlboro man.

Before a crowd of supporters who toasted the moment with champagne in a small, neighborhood bar five blocks from the Atlantic beaches, Gov. Tim Kaine, a Democrat, signed legislation Monday that won improbable passage this year.

“All right. As of December 1, we’ve got a new law, folks,” Mr. Kaine said, beaming after he signed two bills at Croc’s 19th Street Bistro, a few blocks from bikini-clad sunbathers on the Atlantic shore.

The bills passed last month after Mr. Kaine and House Speaker William J. Howell, a Republican, reached a compromise that requires restaurants to limit smoking to separately ventilated rooms. A Democrat was chief sponsor of the Senate measure, while a Republican sponsored the House bill.



Delegate John Cosgrove, Chesapeake Republican and the House sponsor, said he had opposed bans on smoking for years, considering it a government intrusion on private-property ownership and the free market. But voters in his district, he said, made it clear they were tired of breathing others’ smoke when they ate out.

“Even the most hard-core Republicans I know in Chesapeake said, ‘John, we love what you’re doing up there, but when are you going to do something about smoking?’ ” Mr. Cosgrove said.

The measure exempts private clubs and open-air outdoor areas of bars and restaurants when it takes effect.

It was the first substantial tobacco curb in Virginia, a state where taxes on tobacco and restrictions on its use were long dead on arrival in the General Assembly.

It’s also the last major legislative victory for Mr. Kaine, who recently became chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

The 2009 legislature adjourned last month, and Mr. Kaine’s single, nonrenewable term ends in January.

Tobacco was so revered in the Old Dominion that frescoes of the golden leaf adorn the ceiling of the state Capitol Rotunda. A few miles from the Capitol in Richmond, Philip Morris churns out Marlboros and Virginia Slims by the billions at the world’s largest cigarette factory.

Philip Morris along with the state’s powerful tobacco lobby and the state restaurant association battled the bill.

The new law leaves restaurants the option of providing an enclosed area served by an independent ventilation system if they want to permit smoking. But few can afford the expense, according to Thomas Lisk, the restaurant association lobbyist.

That gives large chain restaurants an advantage over small, independent cafes already struggling in a difficult economy. His association opposed the bill, preferring either a total ban that would apply to all eateries or let restaurants decide for themselves whether to ban smoking.

With tobacco use declining, many restaurants have voluntarily gone smoke-free in recent years. In Virginia, nearly 70 percent have banned smoking, including Croc’s.

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