Quite recently, revolutionary breakthroughs in our understanding of physiology have led a sizable number of men of medicine to an understanding that burning tobacco fumes might not be so good for the humours. Realize this is the cutting edge.
In the last Virginia budget session, Governor Tim Kaine was pushing a ban in establishments where “vendors” serve food. That proposal sank primary because of a relatively close House of Delegates vote. Salem Representative Morgan Smith’s alternate proposal was that certain establishments could designate themselves “smoking permitted” by a sign near the entrance, and would then not have to accommodate non-smokers. Kaine then vetoed proposal.
I used to frequent Richmond’s Harrison St. Cafe until they voluntarily discontinued their smoking section about a year and a half ago. Surely many new customers made themselves at home at the time I walked out permanently. Molly Berg, a current daytime server at Harrison St. Cafe, did not believe that the change had hurt business at all. Berg liked the change for her own health. “The smokers just stand outside now,” she said.
By the time all was said at the Capitol without anything done, Tim Kaine’s optimism for his proposal next year did not seem forced. He was eager to discuss it.
TSB: What are your feelings about the failure of your smoking suggestion about restaurants?
TK: I think that it was a very valid and constructive debate.
TSB: Could this happen in the future?
TK: I felt confident that the issue is going to be back before the legislature next year. I learned early in my political life in Richmond that it’s often the case that you don’t get what you want the first time you ask for it. I would then suggest that persistence is a very valuable character trait, and I will definitely persist in this.
The Senate clearly would have supported the amendment – the way it was structured, that is – the house rejected the amendment so it never got to the senate. The votes in the senate were very clearly there to ban smoking in restaurants, and, in the House, forty congress members very definitely wanted to do it. And then the other 59, for a variety of reasons, voted against, but even in the hearing of the debate, it pointed out ways that we might be able to come at this again next year with a significant chance of success.
TSB: Were the special interests lobbying hard against it?
TK: Oh, of all kinds. I mean, some lobbied against it. Others did not do a direct lobby against it. They said, “Well, there’s all kinds of questions and confusions about this.” I view some of those arguments as kind of a red herring. But there were some legislators who I think expressed that they would support a ban of this kind or at least a ban that would be similar if they had some questions answered, and that gives us the opportunity over the next number of months to sit down with those folks and try to answer their questions and find out what they might support.
TSB: What kind of questions?
TK: Well, the issue that was raised, which you probably saw in the debate – some were saying, “Oh, this will stop there from being smoking at weddings and at the hot dog cart on the street.” Those were kind of ridiculous arguments, but they were kind of thrown our there at the end to try to cloud the subject up a little bit. And to the extent that the legislators had any concerns about those questions, that led some to vote against the amendment, but I think we can amply explain between now and next year that those concerns are not warranted, and that there is a way to do a restaurant ban that is a very targeted ban that won’t have the effect of being too broad.