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Smoking in restaurants has some legislators fired up

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Former Roanoke Senator Brandon Bell is no longer in the legislature to champion his fight against the sharing of second-hand smoke, but there are apparently plenty of others willing to carry on his cause.

Governor Tim Kaine has made banning smoking in restaurants a major priority this year and legislators have lit up the legislative agenda with bills against smoking. No less than 11 bills are in the hopper with cigarette smoking in the cross hairs.

In most cases, the legislators need to just butt out.

Freshman Sen. Ralph Northam, D- Norfolk, will carry the flag of Kaine's bill to ban smoking in Virginia restaurants. Northam told the Capital News Service that he believes government should be less intrusive in people's lives, not more. But in this case he believes there should be an exception. ?The government ? has a responsibility to protect us as citizens and I think this is an example of where we need to step up,? Northam is quoted by CNS as stating.

He's wrong.

According to CNS there are some 21,000 restaurants that will be affected if a smoking ban passes. Of those, some 75 percent are already smoke free.

That should tell everyone how this issue should be handled ? by the customers and the business owners. But for some reason, legislators just can't trust the public.

The facts show different.

Restaurants are already responding to their customers' wishes. In most cases that means banning smoking altogether, or as is in some cases, banning smoking on certain days or at certain hours. That's all been done without government interference.

That's how it should be.

More times than not the public gets it right. And business owners aren't stupid. If they believe customers don't want to eat in a smoke-filled room, they adapt ? or they close.

There are other bills being proposed that may have merit, such as that by Del. William K. Barlow, D-Smithfield, who is sponsoring legislation that would allow counties to place a tax on cigarette packs, not to exceed 5 cents per pack. Taxing cigarettes is different than banning their use. By applying the tax, the decision still remains with the consumer and the producer. Consumers will have to decide if it's worth spending that extra money for a pack and producers will be affected on what those decisions are. That's capitalism at its best.

No one argues the dangerous effects of smoking. But there are also plenty of other consumables on the market that are dangerous. Some of those appear on the menus of the very restaurants that could no longer allow smoking if the ban is approved. Is it plausible to think those restaurants might soon have to take some items off of their menus because they aren't healthy?

Sorry, no more double-fudge chocolate cake available, courtesy of the Virginia legislature. Want a steak? Sorry, your cholesterol levels just can't take it anymore.

Businesses and consumers should be able to make their own decisions on whether a restaurant should be smoke free. If customers don't want it, they'll let the businesses know. If businesses see customers going across the street, they'll adjust.

Governor Kaine and the legislators should give the citizens of this state more credit. If a ban is wanted, it'll happen without the government's help.