Alexandria’s General Assembly delegation is united in its support of Governor Tim Kaine’s (D) measure to ban smoking in all Virginia restaurants. But, with Republicans controlling the House of Delegates, the measure will likely never come to a full House vote, relegated instead to death in subcommittee hearings.
And as far as Franco Landini of Landini Brothers on King Street is concerned, that’s just fine.
Landini is organizing a movement against the governor’s efforts to ban smoking in restaurants. In the next couple weeks he plans to release a professionally made information packet defending Virginians’ right to smoke in restaurants. “I am one of the few people in Alexandria that allows smoking,” Landini said. “It’s up to the people, its not up to the government to impose what people can do and what they can’t.”
Landini said the information packet will focus on the principles of civil liberty and freedom of choice. He plans to distribute it to the entire Alexandria community, but especially to smokers.
“How can you tell people not to go to the movies anymore because its bad for you, for example,” Landini, who smokes cigars, said, “Or tell people they can only have one drink? Enough is enough.”
But Landini knows he is fighting an uphill battle and that most Alexandria residents support the measure. “It’s very difficult to get people together,” he said with his thick Italian accent. But, he added, there are a few other restaurants that still allow smoking and he hears from customers that they wish more would.
Alexandria Delegate Adam Ebbin insists that this district is for the measure. “I know that my constituents support clean air in public spaces for public health,” Ebbin said.
“I feel strongly that its an embarrassment that Virginia doesn’t already require that works places be smoke free,” he added. “Virginia’s government is not as advanced as public opinion.”
Currently, 28 states have banned smoking in restaurants.
Landini, Ebbin added, has not reached out to his office to voice his opposition to the measure. As strident as Ebbin is in his support of the measure, Alexandria Delegate David Englin has gone one step further. Ebbin has authored a bill to give local government the authority to enact their own smoke-free restaurant ordinances–essentially allowing local government to act up where the General Assembly has failed to do so.
“I strongly support a statewide smoke-free law,” Englin said. “I hear all the time from people” that want the measure passed, he added.
This is Kaine’s second attempt at passing the smoking ban. In 2007, the House of Delegates passed Del Morgan Griffith’s (D-Salem) bill that prohibited smoking in restaurants unless a sign was posted stating it was allowed. Kaine amended that bill to ban smoking in all restaurants and, after the amendment was endorsed by Sen. John Warner (R), he called a special session of the General Assembly to consider it. He also vowed to veto the entire measure unless the General Assembly passed his amendment.
“The scientific evidence about the health risks associated with exposure to secondhand smoke is clear and convincing,” Kaine said in a statement when he introduced the measure in early January. “Recognizing the negative health effects and high public costs of secondhand smoke, Virginia must act to protect the workers and consumers in its restaurants.”
Del. Brian Moran (D) has not seen this year’s measure but voted for Kaine’s amendment last year and supports the rationale behind the bill, said Jesse Ferguson, Moran’s spokesman.
Alexandria Sen. Patricia Ticer also supports the measure, according to Peggy Papp, her spokeswoman.
But, with Richmond being the home of Philip Morris USA, the world’s largest manufacturer of cigarette’s, the full House has never voted on a complete smoking ban in restaurants. Bill Phelps, a spokesman for Philip Morris USA, said his company understand the concern around smoking in restaurants but thinks a ban is unnecessary.
“We understand that people should be able to avoid being round second hand smoke, especially when you are talking about places where people must go,” Phelps said. “But we think that total bans on smoking go too far. Business owners, and in this case restaurant owners, are the most familiar with how to accommodate the needs of their customers and they should have the flexibility to determine their own smoking policies.”
Ebbin doesn’t see the measure gaining any more traction this year than it did last year. “The House of Delegates is not as enlightened as the Virginia Senate on this issue,” Ebbin said. “Even if it were, in the past we’ve seen smoke-free measures sent to a subcommittee to die without a recorded vote and that is likely what will happen this year. It is unlikely to reach the full House or even a full committee vote.”