Sitting outside Combs Hall after class on a sunny morning, sophomore Alyssa Dandrea exhales slowly. A thin stream of smoke dissipates as she lowers the cigarette to her side. She is used to smoking outside; the Mary Washington campus prohibits smoking in all buildings. By the end of the year, she won’t be able to smoke indoors in any public place because of Virginia’s recently passed smoking ban.
“Because the law is about smoking inside, I understand,” she said. “When there are other people around I can see how smoking could be aggravating for nonsmokers.”
The Indoor Clean Air Act, which will take effect Dec. 1, prohibits smoking in public buildings and restaurants. The act, according to the Virginia General Assembly website, passed the Virginia House and Senate in late February and was officially enacted by Governor Kaine March 9. The law includes several exemptions to appease businesses, including the ability of a business to retain a smoking section if it is completely separate from the nonsmoking section and has its own ventilation system.
A bipartisan effort between Democratic Senator Ralph Northam and Republican Delegate John Cosgrove, the bill has incited mixed reactions from the public.
Some businesses are embracing the law as a way to bring in a more family-oriented crowd, while others decry the government’s involvement in their affairs.
“We’re loving life right now,” Kelly Decatur, assistant general manager of Hard Times Café in Fredericksburg, said. She explained that since Hard Times is already in compliance with the bill, it won’t have to spend additional money on construction like other establishments might.
“We’re hoping to raise business and draw the crowds from Fatty J’s and Buffalo Wild Wings,” she said, since those restaurants will have to undergo construction to meet the demands of the law.
“The customers are loving it,” Decatur said. “We’re very excited about it.”
Some students are supporters of the bill because of the risks of exposure to secondhand smoke.
“I always want the opportunity not to expose myself to it,” freshman Anna Halbrooks-Fulks said.
Freshman Jane Ballard agreed. “I definitely support this,” she said. “Some restaurants are really smoky because the sections aren’t separated enough.”
After Dec. 1, Capital Ale House won’t have sections at all. The popular Friday night hangout for students and locals will be completely non-smoking, general manager Kevin Abley said.
Abley noted that he doesn’t think business will suffer because of the law.
“I do not anticipate our late night business to drop off as long as we are on a
level playing field with everyone else,” he said.
However, although the law may end up being beneficial for business, Albey acknowledged that he was torn in support of it.
“I am a non smoker and will appreciate being able to enjoy restaurants and bars without cigarette smoke,” he said. “However, as a businessperson, I believe that it is the prerogative of business owners to make their own decisions as to whether or not allow a legal product in their business.”
Mary Washington was one of 107 schools that participated in a national survey that measured the number of college students who were smokers.
According to the American College Health Association’s National College Health Assessment report for spring 2007, about 18 percent of the students surveyed had smoked at least one day in the past month. If the statistics were applied to UMW, that would equal about 720 smokers.
However, according to Chris Porter, director of Residence Life, only 44 students indicated on their housing contracts for fall 2008 that they were smokers, meaning that the numbers at Mary Washington may be much smaller than what the national statistics suggest.
For Dandrea, who classifies herself as a smoker, she can live with the Indoor Clean Air Act, “as long as they don’t ban smoking everywhere.”