Board: Scuttle the butts

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 26, 2007

COURTLAND—Southampton County supervisors put themselves wholeheartedly behind an effort to ban smoking in restaurants this week.

Voting unanimously, supervisors directed County Administrator Michael Johnson to notify the county’s various representatives in the General Assembly of their desire for the authority to regulate smoking.

The county’s resolution asks the General Assembly either to enact a statewide ban on smoking in restaurants or to give Virginia counties and cities the right to do so on their own.

With the Board of Supervisors’ decision during its Monday meeting, Southampton joins a growing list of Hampton Roads communities clamoring for such authority.

The effort got off the ground early this fall, when Norfolk and Virginia Beach city councils passed similar resolutions and began seeking support from other Hampton Roads communities.

“We have carefully considered all aspects of the proposed legislation and firmly believe it to be an important and effective measure for the better health of our citizens,” Virginia Beach Council member Rosemary C. Wilson and

Norfolk Council member Barclay C. Winn stated in a letter to Southampton.

“We are, therefore, pleased to invite you to join our effort to secure legislation to prohibit smoking in restaurants and thereby eliminate a serious public health hazard in Hampton Roads.”

In recent weeks, the Portsmouth and Chesapeake city councils approved similar resolutions, and other local governing bodies, including Isle of Wight and Suffolk, have begun to consider seeking the authority. The City of Newport News has taken a slightly different approach, asking the General Assembly to allow the city to change its charter to stop smoking in restaurants.

Virginia is a so-called “Dillon-Rule” state, meaning that local governments’ power is limited to what is expressly given to them by the General Assembly. Regulating smoking in restaurants currently is outside the bounds of that power.

Among Hampton Roads localities that have taken up the issue recently, only York County has declined to pursue Richmond’s blessing on restaurant-smoking bans. That county’s Board of Supervisors voted 3-1 against the resolution Tuesday.

The recent push follows defeats for both smoking and anti-smoking activists earlier this year. Political maneuvering in Richmond last spring resulted in Gov. Timothy M. Kaine’s veto of legislation that would have removed the requirement for restaurants to maintain non-smoking sections, provided they post “smoking permitted” signs.

Kaine had taken the proposed legislation as an opportunity to address restaurant-smoking once and for all, inserting an amendment that would have banned the practice altogether.

The House of Delegates refused to accept the amendment, and the governor chose to veto the bill.