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Alexandria's End Run on Public Smoking

Pat Troy, who owns an Old Town pub that allows smoking, said,
Pat Troy, who owns an Old Town pub that allows smoking, said, "I want to stand up for people who want a cigarette or a smoke." (By Linda Davidson -- The Washington Post)

Alexandria's plan would require all new restaurants to be smoke-free, as well as existing restaurants with outdoor seating on public sidewalks -- which include many cafes in the popular Old Town and Del Ray shopping districts. Restaurants that want to continue to allow smoking would not be able to make upgrades or renovations and would risk being shut down, according to the plan.

"Alexandria would be the first jurisdiction in Virginia to link maintaining the economic vitality of the city as a restaurant destination with the abatement of the public health menace of secondhand smoke," Pessoa said.

The city has 2 million visitors annually and is expecting more when it is linked by water taxi to the massive National Harbor complex across the Potomac River in Prince George's County, set to open next year, Pessoa noted.

About a third of the city's 360 restaurants participate in the Proud to Be Smoke Free program, begun more than a year ago, officials said. That program is voluntary.

Others had reservations.

"I don't like it. I'd be against it," said Pat Troy, who owns an Old Town pub where smoking is allowed in the bar and on patios. "I want to stand up for people who want a cigarette or a smoke. The rights are being taken from people right and left. After a while, we'll have no rights left."

Asked about Alexandria's proposal, David Sutton, a spokesman for Richmond-based Philip Morris USA, reiterated the tobacco giant's position on smoking bans: that restaurateurs are the best gauge of their patrons' needs.

"We believe business owners -- especially those owners of restaurants and bars -- are most familiar with the needs of their patrons, and we think they should be afforded the opportunity to determine a smoking policy for their establishment," Sutton said.

Del. David L. Englin (D), whose district includes Alexandria, said he does not believe the proposal violates state law. "It's groundbreaking," he said. "It's a community making proper but creative use of its existing authority to protect public health."

The City Council approved an early draft of the proposal at its meeting Tuesday night and could hold a public hearing as early as next month. The mayor said he expects lots of public discussion in the coming weeks -- as well as a possible court battle if the measure is approved.

"I think we're going to be successful at this in the end," Euille said. "I'm sure there will be some legal challenges, but hey, you never know until you try it."

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