Virginia Inches Toward Smoking Ban

Tuesday, February 14th, 2006

When a state steeped in tobacco tradition as Virginia falls to Nanny State, woe be to personal freedom:

The Virginia Senate voted Monday to ban smoking in restaurants and virtually all other public places, an extraordinary sign of cultural change in a state that is home to the worldwide headquarters of Philip Morris and whose agricultural economy has been rooted in tobacco farming for almost 400 years.

The bill is unlikely to survive review in the House of Delegates. Yet its passage on the floor of the Senate — where smoking has never been formally banned and lawmakers lit up openly even until the late 1990s — signaled mounting popular support for smoking restrictions.

The kicker here is the ass-covering, spineless antics of the restaurant industry. An earlier incarnation of the bill, which would have let localities in Virginia make their own determination of whether or not to go smoke-free, was defeated after intense lobbying from the restaurant groups. They feared a “patchwork system” of bans and zones of personal and propietary freedom. In other words, they feared letting cities and counties govern themselves. Heaven forbid. But the restaurant lobby apparently has no problem with a statewide ban. Cowards.

The bill was sponsored by a Republican (why not?!?). Here’s his justification:

Sen. Brandon Bell, R-Roanoke, said he drafted the bill because a smoker’s freedom went only so far.

“You can flail your arms around your head as much as you wish,” he said. “But as soon as your arm intersects my face, you’ve interfered with my rights, and I have a right to plead my case. This is about the rights of the nonsmoker not to be exposed to this due to health reasons.”

Bullshit. No one’s forcing anyone to breathe secondhand smoke. Nor is the evidence on the dangers of secondhand smoke anywhere near “conclusive.”

This is about healthists and lifestyle fascists forcing everyone else to live by their rules. As the Ban the Ban crew has pointed out, because patronizing establishments that allow smoking is strictly voluntary, the “until your nose hits my face” analogy is flawed. It’s more like, “you voluntarily run full-tilt into my arm; suffer minor, possibly nonexistent injuries as a result; then try to pass a law banning me from extending my arm in your presence, to make sure you don’t do it again.”

My response to the last time Virginia tried to ban smoking here.

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