Smoking ban has yet to yield fines

By Andy Jenks - bio | email
Posted by Terry Alexander - email

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - At Bandito's in the Fan they're putting in the final nails for a new room, just for non-smokers. What used to be a wide open restaurant is now split in half.

"We'll live, but its a little investment, you know. I expect it will be helpful," said Sean McClain, owner of Bandito's Burrito Lounge.

Sean doesn't want to violate Virginia's month-old restaurant smoking ban, which prohibits people from lighting up indoors unless it's in a separate room, or private club. Violators face a $25 dollar fine.

But according to area police departments, since the new law went into effect, there have been a grand total of zero citations issued in Richmond. And the same is true in Chesterfield, Henrico, Hanover, and Petersburg. Guys like Sean, are not surprised.

"If the fine is $25, and it's on the police to take care of it, this is Richmond. There's other things to do besides bust smokers in restaurants," Sean said.

Indeed, right now, the state Health Department says it's trying to gain compliance without resorting to fines.

"Talking with the owner/operator, trying to bring them in compliance, explain what the law requires, explain what they need to  do to be in compliance, and hopefully obtain compliance," said Gary Hagy, Virginia Department of Health.

That's a little surprising to folks with the American Cancer Society - who have received about a dozen questions or complaints about violators since the ban took effect.

"I think that will continue as we go through. We're only a month in, so a lot of people still need to learn about it, and find out what's going on," said Keenan Caldwell, American Cancer Society.

People at the Health Department say they've done 1,700 restaurant inspections since the ban took effect, and found only about 5% to be in violation. Still - that's about 85 restaurants. The Health Department wouldn't say when it would start getting police to issue the fines.

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