Below The Beltway

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Zoning Out Freedom

by @ 11:18 pm on February 28, 2007. Filed under Individual Liberty, Property Rights, Virginia Politics, Zoning And Land-Use

Unhappy with legislative failure in Richmond, the leaders of the City of Alexandria, Virginia have turned to a new, rather unique, tool in their effort to force local businesses to ban smoking:

Frustrated that the state legislature failed to ban smoking in bars and restaurants, Alexandria officials have come up with a maverick plan of their own that would prohibit smoking in all new eateries and make it more difficult for existing establishments to allow people to light up.

The unusual proposal would use the city’s zoning authority to mandate smoke-free restaurants.

If successful, Alexandria would become the first jurisdiction to bar restaurant smoking in Virginia, where the state legislature severely limits local authority. That means individual governments do not have the power to institute outright smoking bans in restaurants and bars, such as those adopted in the District and several Maryland jurisdictions.

So Alexandria has decided to use its limited powers to achieve the same result.


Alexandria would seize control of the smoking issue with such mundane tools as use permits. When a bar or restaurant came to the city to request a permit, the city would require it to be smoke-free before granting the permit.

And if you own a restaurant that already has a use permit, don’t think that you’re safe:

Restaurants that have permits must agree to go smoke-free in three months or risk future restrictions or even closure.

So much, it seems, for the right of a private business owner to decide how he or she wishes to cater to potential customers. So much for the idea of sitting outside on a summer evening at a restraurant on King Street and smoking a cigar just because you want to. So much for property rights and freedom in the city that George Washington called home.

5 Responses to “Zoning Out Freedom”

  1. Miles says:

    Doug, I presume you also feel food health and safety regulations are an intrusion on the property rights and freedom of restaurants and should be abolished?

  2. Miles,

    Precisely how is your health threatened if I am smoking a cigar outdoors ?

    That’s the part of these bans that shows the anti-smoking crowd for what they really are. It’s not the health of non-smokers they care about, it’s depriving consenting adults of something they enjoy.

  3. Miles says:

    Doug, I’ll answer your question. According to the surgeon general, “There is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke.” And unless it’s a hurricane or you’re sitting in the middle of an argument between Donald Trump and Rosie O’Donnell, there’s not enough enough wind to bring your exposure to zero.

    Now will you answer my original question, or is it easier to just draw devil horns on me?

  4. Miles,

    If I’m outside and you’re not exposed to the smoke at all, then where’s the exposure to even minmal levels.

    Basically, I don’t accept your analogy between smoking and protecting the food supply. Salmonella in chicken is a legitimate threat to public health. Smoking bans, IMO, are another manifestation of the same Nanny State mentality that wants to ban trans fat.

    Now a question for you:

    Why can’t you let the market decide this ? If smoking is as unpopular as the advocates of the ban claim it is, then restaurant and bar owners will start banning smoking on their own to make sure they don’t lose customers. Other owners may decide to cater to a clientele that enjoys a cigar every now and then.

    It’s too bad that the politicians in Alexandria don’t trust their citizens and business owners enough to make the right choices.

  5. Pat says:

    People who talk about property rights with respect to smoking forget that my body is my property, and nobody has the right to pollute someone else’s property. I have suffered severe consequences from being exposed to other people’s smoke, including going into coughing fits that last 20 minutes, won’t let me catch my breath, and could be potentially fatal if I had a heart condition. I’m sorry, but someone else’s impatience to light up doesn’t hold a candle to my health and the health of people like me. We don’t argue that because you own a gun, that gives you the right to shoot someone with it. Why do people argue that owning a restaurant gives the owner the right to allow some of the customers to assault other customers with deadly secondhand smoke?

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