Don’t need no stinkin’ bans!

Chad sends in a blog post noticing that Arlington, VA bars and restaurants are trending smokefree in the absence of legislation:

They said Arlington’s bars would never voluntarily go smoke-free … then Liberty Tavern did and places like Eleventh, Union Jacks, and Clarendon Grill soon followed.

They said sports bars would never go smoke-free … then Summers created a separate smoke-free bar, followed by Four Courts and Crystal City Sports Pub, and Thirsty Bernie’s opened entirely smoke-free.

Now Arlington’s best diner, Bob & Edith’s at Columbia Pike & S. Wayne St., is going 100% smoke-free.

Arlington makes an interesting test case. It’s one of the wealthiest, most liberal cities in the country, and residents would surely approve a smoking ban if they were allowed to. Fortunately they’re restrained by Virginia law that forbids local anti-smoking ordinances to exceed the state’s own rules. Every year a statewide ban is introduced in the senate and immediately shot down by the tobacco-friendly house.

The fact that popular bars and established restaurants are voluntarily choosing to restrict smoking shows that ban opponents have been right all along: given demand for smokefree environments, profit-seeking business owners will eventually provide them, if not as immediately as a legislative ban would. And as someone who generally prefers bars with clean air, I think that’s fantastic — as long as dive bars like Jay’s or the backroom cigar lounge at EatBar remain free to set their own policies too.

The same has been true in Portland, another city one might have expected to institute a smoking ban long ago. Even before the statewide ban went into effect last week I noticed there were far more smokefree bars here than in other places I’ve lived. I checked the directory at and the site listed more than 400 establishments within the city limits. That was hardly a lack of choice for non-smokers.

At best, one could make the case for nudging businesses to go smokefree with one-time tax breaks to speed up adoption of the policy. Otherwise, leave people free to associate on their own terms and they’ll eventually figure out ways to accommodate each other. There’s no need for coercion.

The magic of politics
Why aren’t more bars smokefree?


6 thoughts on “Don’t need no stinkin’ bans!”

  1. Yeah, SmokeFreeDC used to have a similar list (maybe they still do) of bars and restaurants that were voluntarily smokefree. There were more than 200 on there by the time the ban went into effect. Did that make them think that maybe a ban is overkill? Nope, they just said something like “Wouldn’t this be easier if ALL businesses were smokefree?”

    There’s just no pleasing some people.

  2. I’d like to see a little more about cause and effect here. How much impact is the D.C. ban having on Arlington? For bar/restaurant purposes, they’re practically the same city. One would think that with a D.C. ban Arlingtonians wanting smoke-free settings would be flooding into D.C., and smokers from D.C. would be flooding into Arlington. There should actually be very little market pressure for Arlington bars to go smoke-free with the added D.C. business, right? Something else must be going on here.

  3. Or maybe Arlingtonians like the smokefree bars in DC and so the Clarendon bars go smokefree to compete. DC smokers could be coming to Arlington, and I’m sure some do, but you know how DC people are: going to Virginia is like crossing a national border for them.

    What “something else” aside from either wanting to attract customers or a preference on the part of the owners and staff do you think would be going on here?

  4. I guess I was thinking something along the lines of “there weren’t any/enough non-smoking options available, and the market wasn’t responding adequately by creating non-smoking bars/restaurants. When D.C. passed a ban, suddenly there was a critical mass of non-smoking options, such that Arlington bars finally had to consider the question of whether they should or shouldn’t be non-smoking.”

    Basically, maybe the market is working in Arlington, but perhaps the only reason it’s working is because of what has happened in D.C.

    I’ve been saying for a long time that the market understates preferences, and you’ve been saying for a long time that government action overstates them. Maybe in Arlington we can see the happy medium, where the market is still allowed to operate, but has outside pressure created by the preferences voiced in the government of their neighboring jurisdiction.

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