February 20, 2008 – Though the Virginia General Assembly recently killed a bill that would have made it illegal to smoke in bars and restaurants in the commonwealth, two University of Virginia students pledged to continue their efforts to clear the air, both in local restaurants and at the state level.
Third-year student Angie Smith, an intern in the University’s Office of Health Promotion, helped produce the “Wahoo Corner Guide to Smoke-Free Dining.” The guide lists smoke-free restaurants in the popular Corner district, plus facts about tobacco use and nutrition and resources to help readers quit smoking.
“We created the dining guide to reward restaurants on The Corner that are smoke-free, and to encourage those that are not to possibly think about it,” Smith said. “We also wanted to give students a chance to know which restaurants are smoke-free.”
Funding for the guide came from the Virginia Department of Health’s Tobacco-Use Control Project, said Alison Beaver, the former director of the Office of Health Promotion who oversaw the completion of the guide last semester. The guide complements the “Smoke-Free Corner Nights” that the Office of Health Promotion sponsors once a semester at establishments that pledge to be smoke-free for the night.
“Though they were fun and worthwhile, we felt that this event alone was not getting to the policy-change piece, ... the piece that could actually make change in restaurants' smoke/smoke-free status,” Beaver said. “The guide can help policy change in a positive manner. ... That was the ideal, and if that was not realized, then at least students, the Charlottesville community and restaurant workers could enjoy one night of the semester in a smoke-free establishment.”
While Smith and the Office of Health Promotion support local anti-smoking efforts, fourth-year student Katherine Klem turned her passion to change tobacco policy into a national nonprofit organization. As a high school sophomore in Kentucky, she founded "Ignite," an organization of students who lobby politicians to make socially responsible tobacco laws. Now the organization has 20 chapters around the country.
“This campaign to end smoking in public places in Virginia is definitely something I believe in,” Klem said. “No restaurant or bar owner should be able to allow their workplace, where people have to work to earn a living, to be polluted.”
In January, she testified before a Virginia House of Delegates subcommittee in support of a bill that would have made it illegal to smoke in restaurants. She and another student traveled to Richmond again last week before the subcommittee killed the bill. While some argue that the bill would have limited personal choice, Klem said she feels it is a matter of public health.
“Some people say we should leave it up business owners. I think that is a ridiculous argument,” Klem said. “Secondhand smoke kills twice as many Americans every year as AIDS. This is not a nuisance. … It is killing 36,000 Americans a year.”
For information about U.Va.’s Office of Health Promotion, visit www.virginia.edu/studenthealth/healthpro.html.
To learn more about Ignite, visit www.ignitegeneration.org.