RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Smokers will be told to butt out of bars and restaurants in Virginia and take the smoking outside as of today. The new smoking ban has gone into effect and eateries in Central Virginia have been getting ready.
Last night, the party is for the last gasp, the last puff of a cigarette in most restaurants in the Commonwealth. The White Dog isn't usually open Mondays, but owners are holding this special celebration as a sort of last hurrah for tobacco in what's widely known as tobacco country.
Tuesday will bring a breath of fresh air for non-smokers throughout Virginia. So some smokers are taking their last gasp in smoke filled rooms.
"It's the end of an era, for sure," said smoker Jill Bari Organ.
The Organs were expecting the change and have been inhaling every last puff while they still can.
"I really have no problem with that issue. I am a smoker but I certainly understand that other people who aren't smokers don't want to be surrounded by cigarette smoke," said Stephen Organ.
After much debate in a state with strong economic and historic ties to tobacco, lawmakers passed the rule this session, banning smoking inside most restaurants. It left owners to either restructure their buildings or put smokers outside.
The White Dog owner Barry Pruitt can often be seen tending bar with a cigarette hanging from his mouth.
"I own this restaurant and I own this building and the idea that I can't stand in here and smoke a cigarette myself, far be it, the customers, is a little offensive," he said.
People who light up in nonsmoking areas after a warning can face a $25 penalty. The same goes for staff who don't enforce the restrictions. Ashtrays made especially for the event read "in remembrance of the last gasp." So we asked Pruitt if this was really more of a funeral than a celebration.
"We're trying to party, so let's say it's a wake!" Pruitt said.
Pruitt could theoretically put up a door to create a barrier and comply with the new law. He says he's not going to do that. Many restaurateurs tell us with the tough economy; it's not the right time to spend thousands of dollars on new construction.