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.