People Ban: VA Alexandria

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Virginia Alexandria Update

City Moves to Ban Restaurant Smoking

June 17, 2007
By Kirstin Downey, Washington Post Staff Writer
After a heated and raucous public meeting, the Alexandria City Council voted unanimously yesterday to use its zoning powers to ban smoking in restaurants, an unusual tactic opponents said would lead to costly lawsuits.
Many states and cities, including Maryland and the District, have banned smoking in public places, but the Virginia legislature severely limits local authority in such issues. Alexandria has opted to use the power it does have — in this case, control over land-use regulation — to force restaurant owners to go smoke-free or lose their operating permits. It is the first jurisdiction in Virginia to take such action.
More than two dozen people spoke at the hearing; most were against the ban. Chamber of Commerce members called the effort an improper use of city’s powers. Several restaurant owners said they would lose business to eateries that permit smoking in places such as Arlington County.
“I’m mad, I’m upset, I’m furious,” said Pat Troy, owner of Ireland’s Own restaurant in Alexandria. “You’re persecuting the restaurant people.”
“You’ll have a lawsuit,” said Annabelle Fisher, a smoker. “Taxpayers will pay for it.”
Bert Ely, a nonsmoker, said he feared the ban would hurt restaurant profitability and leave Alexandria diners with fewer options.
“I’m concerned as a consumer about the fate of restaurants in Old Town,” Ely said.
Health activists, however, applauded the city’s action. “Secondhand smoke is not a mere annoyance but a public health risk,” said Cathleen Smith Grzesiek, director of public advocacy for the American Heart Association in Virginia.
The council voted unanimously to adopt the changes to the city’s land-use code.
“People have the right to smoke, but they don’t have the right to give other people cancer,” council member Rob Krupicka (D) said.
“It’s important to protect the health of our constituents,” council member Ludwig P. Gaines (D) said.
As it became apparent that the council intended to approve the measure despite vocal opposition, some smokers began shouting their comments, causing Mayor William D. Euille (D) to warn that people who spoke out of turn would be ejected from the meeting. Several smokers left the room, gesturing their disapproval of the council’s handling of the matter.
“I felt like I was back in a third-world country,” said Amy Bursell, a smoker who had testified that studies on the effects of secondhand smoke have been mischaracterized as more conclusive than they really are. “They are a little group of warlords, reminiscent of the Taliban.”
Several speakers urged the city to drop the matter and wait for the state to enact a ban on smoking in restaurants. In February 2006, the Virginia Senate voted to ban smoking in restaurants and many other public places, but the measure failed in the House of Delegates after tobacco companies opposed it.
Other speakers said Alexandria shouldn’t wait on the state because the legislature has long been heavily influenced by tobacco interests.
“Having some experience in the legislature, I wouldn’t put great faith in state action,” said Marian Van Landingham, an Alexandria resident who served in the House of Delegates for 24 years, until 2005.
Council member Paul Smedberg (D) said he hoped the vote would send a message to Richmond.
“Sometimes local jurisdictions have to push the envelope,” he said. “The country is heading this way. Virginia could be the last state to enact a smoking ban.”
If the council again approves the measure in the session that begins in the fall, the ordinance would take effect July 1, 2008.


Alexandria Officials Consider Smoking Ban
Ban Could Affect All Restaurants

3/1/07

Officials in the city of Alexandria made a proposal Thursday to prohibit smoking in certain businesses after a statewide smoking ban went up in flames during the Virginia General Assembly.

Legislators said they want to end smoking in all new restaurants. But, some said the proposal would also make it more difficult for smokers to light up in established restaurants and bars.

“We want the environment to be much cleaner and healthier in our restaurants,” said Alexandria Mayor William Euille.

The ordinance would require all new restaurants and old restaurants seeking a new permit to be smoke-free.

Restaurants that have permits must agree to go smoke-free in three months or risk future restrictions or closure.

The state Legislature considered several proposals to restrict smoking in public places, and ended up with a measure that requires restaurants to post signs if they allow smoking.

Health advocates said they hope that Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, a Democrat, will amend the bill to ban smoking in restaurants altogether.

But, officials said, such an amendment could have difficulty winning approval in the House of Delegates because Virginia is known to be a big tobacco state.

“What’s going to happen to the businesses if they can’t survive? Staff have to be let off, they may have to throw away the businesses,” said restaurant owner Pat Troy.

Some restaurant owners said their profits would go up in smoke if they had to go smoke-free, while others said they are not so sure.

“I can survive — or I will,” said restaurant manager Wally Zadran.

Supporters of the ban have said that restaurants will not lose business but gain it by banning smoking.

Opponents said smokers will simply begin to give their business to other places that will allow them to light up.

“They’re going to be going to all these other areas because Alexandria has banned smoking,” said Troy.

Euille said the zoning amendment could go before City Council within 60 days and officials could decide to ban smoking in restaurants as soon as September.


Alexandria’s End Run on Public Smoking
City Wants to Use Zoning Laws to Make Eateries Tobacco-Free

By Annie Gowen, Washington Post Staff Writer
March 1, 2007

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.

“This is something we all wanted,” said Mayor William D. Euille (D). “It would be nice if the state would mandate and make it happen. But obviously they’re passing the buck on this . . . so we need to move forward to do what we need to do, and we found the loophole to do it.”

Euille said the city’s proposal was a result of “creative, outside-the-box” thinking.

Alexandria would seize control of the smoking issue with such mundane tools as use permits. When a bar or restaurant came to the city to request a permit, the city would require it to be smoke-free before granting the permit. Restaurants that have permits must agree to go smoke-free in three months or risk future restrictions or even closure.

The state legislature evaluated several proposals to restrict smoking in public places this year — always a difficult sell in a tobacco state — and ended up with a measure that requires restaurants to post signs if they allow smoking.

Health advocates hope that Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) will amend that bill to ban smoking in restaurants altogether, but even if he did so, such an amendment could have difficulty winning approval in the House of Delegates.

The city’s proposal won praise from anti-smoking advocates yesterday, even as others who have watched the smoking battle unfold in the legislature privately expressed doubt it would withstand a legal challenge.

“This is a brand-new approach to me,” said Teresa Gregson, a lobbyist for the American Heart Association in Richmond. “I haven’t heard of anybody using their zoning powers. I like it. It stirs up trouble and throws a whole new mix in the pot.”

In a memo, Alexandria City Attorney Ignacio B. Pessoa wrote that if other jurisdictions protect residents from the dangers of secondhand smoke, while Alexandria does not, the city is likely to suffer an “economic disadvantage.” Thus, the city is within its local authority to use zoning to require smoke-free dining, he argued. Montgomery, Prince George’s, Howard, Talbot and Charles counties in Maryland as well as the District have smoking bans. Baltimore approved one this week, and the Maryland legislature is considering a statewide ban.

Alexandria’s plan would require all new restaurants to be smoke-free, as well as existing restaurants with outdoor seating on public sidewalks — which include many cafes in the popular Old Town and Del Ray shopping districts. Restaurants that want to continue to allow smoking would not be able to make upgrades or renovations and would risk being shut down, according to the plan.

“Alexandria would be the first jurisdiction in Virginia to link maintaining the economic vitality of the city as a restaurant destination with the abatement of the public health menace of secondhand smoke,” Pessoa said.

The city has 2 million visitors annually and is expecting more when it is linked by water taxi to the massive National Harbor complex across the Potomac River in Prince George’s County, set to open next year, Pessoa noted.

About a third of the city’s 360 restaurants participate in the Proud to Be Smoke Free program, begun more than a year ago, officials said. That program is voluntary.

Others had reservations.

“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.”

Asked about Alexandria’s proposal, David Sutton, a spokesman for Richmond-based Philip Morris USA, reiterated the tobacco giant’s position on smoking bans: that restaurateurs are the best gauge of their patrons’ needs.

“We believe business owners — especially those owners of restaurants and bars — are most familiar with the needs of their patrons, and we think they should be afforded the opportunity to determine a smoking policy for their establishment,” Sutton said.

Del. David L. Englin (D), whose district includes Alexandria, said he does not believe the proposal violates state law. “It’s groundbreaking,” he said. “It’s a community making proper but creative use of its existing authority to protect public health.”

The City Council approved an early draft of the proposal at its meeting Tuesday night and could hold a public hearing as early as next month. The mayor said he expects lots of public discussion in the coming weeks — as well as a possible court battle if the measure is approved.

“I think we’re going to be successful at this in the end,” Euille said. “I’m sure there will be some legal challenges, but hey, you never know until you try it.”

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