Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Smoke Free Virginia

Apparently there is now a smoking ban in place for restaurants in Virginia, how does this affect me? Well, for a start, there are no such things as bars in Virginia - bars in the sense that most people understand them, watering holes, drinking dens, places with beer and maybe some snacks. To serve alcohol in Virginia it is required to serve food as well, effectively making a pub in reality a "restaurant that serves alcohol" to quote Dave over at Musings Over A Pint.

From my experience of going to "pubs" so far, very few of them have been smoky in the slightest - now admittedly my frame of reference for a smoky pub would be one of the various dark places in Prague that filled up fairly quickly with a blue fug, and you left reeking incredibly badly. But I think making restaurants no smoking is a good idea, simply because eating dinner and inhaling copious amounts of second hand smoke really isn't all that pleasant, it ruins the food for a start.

This has, however, convinced me that Virginia needs bars where the food available includes crisps, chocolate bars and pre-made sandwiches for the hungry, nothing fancy, but something which is easy to do and doesn't require massive capital investment in building a kitchen. I have to admit that I am a bit confused by the law here about what qualifies as food in order to serve alcohol, so if any of my Virginia readers can enlighten me then I would be very happy.

I do however have a problem with smoking bans in principle. What is the point of having a perfectly legal, if unhealthy, habit and then proscribing partakers in that particular habit from performing their perfectly legal act in given places? Why not go to the heart of the problem and ban tobacco (and yes I know the tobacco lobby would be up in arms)? But part of me also wonders, when will the prohibitionists attempt to force similar "alcohol bans"? Now, it would be easy to convince ourselves that the nutter prohibitionist movement could never impose another alcohol ban, but they did it before and would love to do it again, indeed I know of a few towns in the US which are "dry".

Perhaps what is needed in Virginia is a campaign for the law to be changed, and allow bars and pubs to open which are primarily "wet-led" to use the British industry parlance. I would posit that there is scant evidence that insisting on serving food in order to serve alcohol makes people likely to drink less, so why hobble entrepreneurs with ridiculous legislation? While I am in a slightly campaigning mood, I would also like to campaign for the legal age for alcohol consumption to be lowered to 18, it a person is old enough to pay taxes, smoke, vote, die in the army, then by what justification do you deny people the right to enjoy a pint at the end of the day. Also, I want to see the requirement for carding people who look over 30 in shops and other places serving alcohol outlawed - have these people never heard of "innocent until proven guilty". Yes it can be difficult to tell, but you should only card when you are not sure.

Here ends today's lesson.


  1. What is the point of having a perfectly legal, if unhealthy, habit and then proscribing partakers in that particular habit from performing their perfectly legal act in given places?

    Partakers have a choice of what they inhale. Workers where the partaking is occurring do not.

    In Ireland and the UK the law is explicitly stated to be of benefit to people who worked in previously smoky environments. Their health and safety takes precedence over the smoker's pleasure.

    The alcohol ban you mention will be proposed as soon as research indicates that your drinking gives the barman cirrhosis. Before that, it would just be silly.

  2. As The Beer Nut says, for me this is primarily a workplace safety issue.

    Regarding the "carding" age. There is no law stating that a business has to card up to a certain age. Of course the penalties for selling to someone underage is very, very steep. So, businesses up the age to make sure they're not in violation. Furthermore, according to Virginia law, there is no "right" to purchase alcohol. "Innocent until proven guilty" has absolutely no bearing in the private sector. Besides the legal prohibitions (age, intoxication, other underage people in the party, lewdness, blackout hours, etc.), a business can refuse the right to sell to anyone, anytime, for any reason.

    You're right about the fear of an alcohol ban. Groups like MADD and others have shifted their focus to outright alcohol prohibition. For now, it's a fringe movement for the most part but they are having some successes through scare tactics in some areas.

    You're also right about the drinking age. Though some people start working, and thus start paying taxes younger than 18. So we should lower the drinking age to 16? 14? ;)

  3. The Beer Nut read my mind. The problem I have with smoking bans is that the people advocating for them do it only for selfish reasons "I don't want to inhale smoke/stink like an old ashtray when I go for a meal". As if going to a restaurant was something mandatory.

    Now talk about the people working at restaurants and now you have a very strong argument that none of those selfish twats ever think of.

  4. I am not convinced that the health and safety angle for workers is a necessarily strong argument, after all if customers can choose to take their business to less or no-smoking pubs, then surely workers have the option to take their labour elsewhere?

    I am not sure of the legal situation in the UK and Ireland about bar staff having a drink on the job, but I know that in Virginia it is technically illegal (even though I have seen bar staff drinking in almost every pub I go to), so is it such a great step to say that working in a bar can cause liver problems?

    On the drinking age issue, I have been in plenty of pubs in Prague where kids as young as 14 get served beer despite the legal age being 18. You could stagger the age, drinks under 6% available at 16, above at 18 for example. The alternative of course is to raise the legal age for smoking, voting, serving in the Army and so on, to 21.

  5. Yes it is a great step to say that, since it's drinker's choice rather than passive drinking.

    If you go for the "take your labour elsewhere" argument, you have to ask if the bar owner needs to fix the ladder to the cellar, or earth the glasswashing machine properly. You have to ask if a building contractor has to provide hard hats and harnesses for workers on his site. After all, if they don't like the health and safety conditions on the site, the can take their labour elsewhere, right?

  6. Purely playing devil's advocate here, but there are economic reasons for fixing the ladder - if you can't get to the cellar then you can't change kegs or casks and you have nothing to serve your customers.

    There are also economic reasons to have the glass washer working properly, it would get bloody expensive using a glass just the once before throwing it away, of course you could use plastic instead, but then people will complain that they want proper glasses.

  7. The ladder and the glass washer both work. The bar owner is happy with them. They're just not safe, is all.


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