Smoking? Not in here

Published 9:07 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

FRANKLIN—Some local restaurants are adjusting to a new era of smoke-free dining.

As of Tuesday, smoking is prohibited in Virginia restaurants, save a few exceptions, thanks to legislation passed by the General Assembly earlier this year.

The Virginia Indoor Clean Air Act bans smoking in the state’s restaurants as of Dec. 1. Virginia is now one of 34 states to enact some type of smoking ban in restaurants, but one of only a handful to go as far as to limit smoking in bars.

Local restaurant owners said they don’t know what to expect.

“We don’t know how it’s going to affect us,” said David Rabil, owner of Fred’s Restaurant in downtown Franklin.

According to the Virginia Department of Health, most local restaurants were already smoke-free before the ban became effective.

In Isle of Wight County, 80 percent of full-service and fast food restaurants were already non-smoking and 79 percent of restaurants in both Franklin and Southampton County were already non-smoking, the VDH said.

Don Pancho’s Mexican Restaurant in Franklin has been smoke-free for more than a year.

“It’s actually increased my business,” said Frank Padilla, who owns Don Pancho’s. He said that some people complained about the non-smoking policy in the beginning, but they eventually got used to it.

“It hasn’t really been an issue for us,” he said. “If it were a bar, that would be a different story.”

“We’re about the food,” Padilla said.

Joe Misseri, who owns Joe’s Pizza in Isle of Wight, said his restaurant has been a non-smoking establishment for several years, and he is pleased with the results.

“The only thing I want to smoke is the food,” he said.

Restaurants aren’t the only businesses that will be affected by the ban. Since it sells food, the Franklin Bowling Center is also required to be non-smoking.

“It’s the law, and we’re complying,” said Tammy Hatfield, a manager at the bowling alley. “Accommodations will be made, and the building will be smoke-free.”

There are some ways for restaurants to get around the ban. The law allows for smoking in any portion of a restaurant that is structurally separated from the non-smoking areas of the building and separately vented.

Private clubs and portions of restaurants that are used for private functions are also exempt from the ban.

Rabil said Monday morning that he wouldn’t be making changes to allow for smoking inside.

“I’m not building a room. Anybody that wants to smoke has to go out there,” he said, motioning toward the restaurant’s patio.

However, Rabil is hoping the ban may actually draw in customers who had been turned off because of the cigarette smoke.

“Maybe some people that don’t normally come in here because of the smoke will come see us,” he said.

Smokers, however, are less than pleased that they will no longer be able to light up in their favorite restaurants.

“I think it’s just Big Brother stepping on our toes, again,” said Courtland resident Don Savage, as he smoked a cigarette in Fred’s on Monday.

“I think it should be left up to every establishment,” he said. Savage said that he eats out at restaurants a few times a week, but the ban would have an effect on how frequently he does so from now on.