ABC: Smoking Ban violators may lose liquor license

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

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Restaurants and bars that violate Virginia's indoor smoking ban may be setting themselves up for much bigger problems.

If an establishment is fined $25 for allowing people to smoke, the Alcoholic Beverage Control board is allowed to suspend or even revoke its liquor license.

Back in December, NBC12 paid a visit to Judy Maxie, who wasn't about to kick smokers out of her Midlothian restaurant because of a measly $25 fine.

"I wasn't going to stop my customers and I wasn't going to lose business," Maxie said at the time.

Judy, owner of Caddy's, was still building a smokers-only room, which is now complete. Only now is it more clear, that what she did also put her liquor license at risk.

"I suspect there are a lot of folks that haven't thought that far into it," said Curtis Coleburn, Chief Operating Officer of the Virginia ABC.

The book on Virginia ABC laws states that any restaurant that does not conform to local health regulations can have its liquor license revoked.

"So what we've been waiting, basically, is for the local police or whoever to charge them," Coleburn said.

That's where other restaurant owners like Rob Weaver, see a problem.

"I don't think anybody has a genuine fear of enforcement though," said Weaver, owner of Stronghill Dining Company in Richmond.

Local police would have to issue a ticket first, and so far not a single $25 fine has been reported anywhere in Virginia, even though smoking is still taking place illegally. Health officials say the fines are coming. Only then, could the ABC take action.

"We just encourage people to obey the smoking ban, because we don't want to be the bad guys," Coleburn said.

While the $25 dollar smoking fine is still a punch line to some, restaurant owners we spoke to say, the threat on a liquor license, isn't worth the risk.

"It's still gonna be 20/25% of our revenue, generated from liquor...that's liquor beer and wine," Weaver said.

The ABC will be taking this message directly to its licensees in its next newsletter, making it clear that violating the smoking ban will potentially put their liquor license at risk.

Copyright 2010 WWBT NBC12. All rights reserved.