Va. restaurant smoking crackdown nets 13 arrests

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

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - A police crackdown nets the first violators of Virginia's restaurant smoking ban.

Over the weekend, police nabbed 13 people at a group of Vietnamese restaurants in Falls Church. Locally, restaurants are making sure they don't end up on the wrong side of the law.

Tucked neatly in the back, down a ramp, and beside the bathrooms is the official "non-smoking" area at Caddy's, complete with its own ventilation. It may not be what the writers of the restaurant smoking ban had in mind, but it's perfectly legal.

"I think, pretty much, 85 to 90% of the people who come in here do smoke," said customer Mark Swerdlow.

Swerdlow, a smoker, keeps coming back because he likes the people and the atmosphere. But he's a little concerned that some folks, at least in Falls Church, are being charged by police for lighting up where it's no longer allowed.

"When I go out, and I'm at a bar drinking beer, I'd like to smoke," Swerdlow said.

The arrests in Northern Virginia are believed the be the first under Virginia's restaurant smoking ban, which took effect last December. They probably won't be the last.

"I'm sure there will be what we call a ripple effect," said Gary Hagy of the Virginia Department of Health.

Of the 23,000 restaurants inspected since December 1, 97.2% are following the new rules, Hagy said. Still, that means some are not.

"There are some [restaurants] that we know [whose owners] have said they don't intend to comply, they don't want to comply. And those are the ones that, if we know that, we've instructed our people to refer those individuals to law enforcement.

That won't be a problem at Caddy's, where health inspectors already have signed off on the new arrangements.

"I think we [smokers] have rights, too, but then again, people that non-smoke, they don't want to be around smoke," Swerdlow said.

Of the 13 people that police say were arrested in Falls Church, nine were for smoking in a non-designated area. Four were charged for allowing people to smoke. All of them face $25 fines. Police went to the restaurants after receiving complaints for several months.

The state health department does not have the authority to issue the fines. Enforcement decisions are made by individual police departments.

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