With just about 50 days to go before the Commonwealth’s landmark smoking ban goes into effect, Governor Timothy M. Kaine is joining dining patrons and community leaders across Virginia to highlight restaurants that have already gone smoke-free. The new law – called “monumental” in one of the nation’s biggest tobacco-producing states – takes effect December 1 and will prohibit smoking in nearly all restaurants across the Commonwealth. Last week, the Governor visited successful restaurants in Norfolk, Richmond, Roanoke, and Fairfax County that have voluntarily gone smoke-free.
“This historic public health measure will only enhance the high quality of life Virginians have come to enjoy by protecting restaurant patrons and employees from the serious health risks of secondhand smoke,” says Governor Kaine. “With a growing number of Virginia restaurants that have already found they can be both smoke-free and successful, I encourage other restaurants to go smoke-free before December 1 to immediately protect restaurant-goers and workers alike.”
By enacting a ban on smoking in the Commonwealth’s bars and restaurants, Virginia joins the 27 states and the District of Columbia that have already passed similar legislation. Virginia’s law permits narrow exceptions for private clubs and restaurants with designated smoking rooms that are structurally separate and independently vented from non-smoking dining rooms.
According to the Virginia Department of Health (VDH), about 70 percent of Virginia’s fast-food and full-service restaurants are now smoke-free.
Since the legislation passed earlier this year, VDH has been working with health care organizations, members of the restaurant and hospitality industry, other state agencies, and local governments to develop common sense, cost-effective policies and procedures to implement and enforce the ban. Citizens and dining establishments with questions on implementation of the smoking ban should visit VDH’s Frequently Asked Questions page in advance of the December 1 deadline.
Secondhand smoke is responsible for as many as 1,040 adult deaths per year in Virginia, according to the health department. In addition, the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids estimates the Commonwealth spends $105.3 million a year on health care expenditures related to exposure to second hand smoke.
The Governor was accompanied during last week’s visits by State Health Commissioner Karen Remley, M.D., MBA, who emphasized resources available for smokers seeking help in quitting. To assist those wishing to quit, VDH will be expanding the Quit Now Virginia hotline to serve more than 3,500 smokers annually.
“This flu season is a good time for smokers to quit,” says Dr. Remley. “Smokers often suffer chronic ailments and are at greater risk for complications from influenza. With H1N1 influenza circulating this fall in addition to seasonal flu, we hope smokers will make the healthy choice for themselves and their families of quitting in advance of the smoking ban.”
For more information on the upcoming smoking ban, go to the Virginia Department of Health’s website at www.vdh.virginia.gov.  Restaurant inspection reports, which are also available on the VDH website, provide information to identify those restaurants that are already smoke-free.
Smokers who want to go smoke-free can get help through the Quit Now Virginia hotline by calling toll-free (800) QUIT-NOW (800-784-8669) to be connected to information and assistance in getting help locally.