Up in smoke

Published 8:32 am Wednesday, January 7, 2009

For the second straight year, Gov. Tim Kaine has proposed legislation that would ban smoking in restaurants throughout the state.

The governor’s bold move follows an anti-smoking trend nationwide and even in Virginia, a state whose economy was founded on tobacco hundreds of years ago and continues to benefit today from the presence of Philip Morris USA, a leading manufacturer of tobacco products.

“The scientific evidence about the health risks associated with exposure to secondhand smoke remains clear and convincing,” Kaine said while announcing the proposed legislation at the Liberty Tavern, a smoke-free establishment in Arlington. “I am compelled by concern for the health and wellbeing of all Virginians, as well as recognition of the high public costs of secondhand smoke, to once again ask the members of the General Assembly to approve this necessary and reasonable legislation.”

For the purpose of Kaine’s legislation, a “restaurant” is any establishment where food is sold to the public.

We applaud the governor for taking a stand against smoking in public. Though we respect everyone’s rights to damage their bodies in whatever ways they see fit, be it alcohol, tobacco or food, it just makes good sense to keep the adverse effects of those vices away from those who don’t care to partake.

Our philosophical inclination is toward a free-market economy, in which owners of private establishments, including restaurants, make their own rules and customers decide whether to patronize those businesses. But as evidence of the dangers of secondhand smoke has mounted, we’ve become convinced of the need for smoke-free “public” places.

At a time when it is becoming increasingly apparent that spending cuts are needed — both in our homes and in our government — it’s smart to take this proactive approach to health care, too. The state reportedly spends $113 million a year on health-care costs associated with secondhand smoke exposure, and the Virginia Department of Health says that that smoke causes 1,700 deaths a year.

Anyone with half a brain can name at least three areas where that kind of money can be better spent.

People going to restaurants should be able to eat without being overwhelmed by smoke, and those who work in eating establishments shouldn’t have to risk their lives to earn a paycheck.

Restaurants and bars will continue to prosper if a smoking ban goes into effect. People will continue to go out and enjoy restaurants and nightlife. Air pollution levels might even go down.

And Kaine can add public-health advocate to his legacy.