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2009 News Releases

Longwood geographer creates web site with smoke-free restaurant data

February 16, 2009

No Smoking

A Longwood University geographer has used his interest in mapping Virginia data to shed light on one of the hottest issues in this year's Virginia General Assembly.

Information on the proportion of smoke-free restaurants for each Virginia locality is available on a web site created by Dr. David Hardin, associate professor of geography, based on information compiled by the Virginia Department of Health's Office of Environmental Health Services (OEHS). Hardin created the site, which contains two maps and accompanying analysis, after learning in January that the state legislature would consider several bills to ban smoking in restaurants and bars.

Both of Hardin's maps break the state's 134 counties and independent cities down into three categories: those in which a majority of restaurants are non-smoking (slightly more than 75 percent of localities), more than 65 percent of restaurants are non-smoking (about 32 percent of localities), and a majority of restaurants allow smoking (nearly 25 percent of localities).

The OEHS, on its web site, publishes the percentage of restaurants in each Virginia locality that are completely smoke-free, have restricted smoking policies, or allow smoking anywhere. The OEHS gives percentages for both full-service and fast food restaurants, whereas Hardin uses the combined rate for both types of restaurants.

 "I have taken the OEHS data and mapped it," Hardin said. "I teach a Geography of Virginia course, and whenever there is data for Virginia localities, I mine whatever data that I can convert into maps."

Hardin's site, "Clearing the Haze: The Proportion of Smoke-Free Restaurants in Virginia Localities, 2009," was posted Feb. 10, only 11 days after he first viewed the data on smoke-free restaurants on the OEHS web site. "The findings of this study are not meant to promote any particular side of the smoking ban debate in Virginia," he noted in the analysis that accompanies the maps.

"One of my maps is a standard map in which I have added a darker shade where not just a majority but two-thirds of the restaurants are smoke-free," he said. "The other is a cartogram in which I changed the size and shape of the localities based on population, as is done to illustrate election results. Populations affected by different rates of non-smoking were tallied using 2008 population estimates for Virginia localities. The two-thirds (smoke-free) localities tend to be in urban and suburban areas, as I expected. In over 75 percent of localities, a majority of restaurants are smoke-free, and over 90 percent of Virginians, just under seven million people, live in localities in which the majority of restaurants are smoke-free."

Was he surprised by any of the data? "I was surprised that the localities in which two-thirds of restaurants are smoke-free contain a majority of Virginians. Also, I was surprised that the Valley and western Virginia were as smoke-free as they are, including Craig County, which is the only locality that is 100 percent smoke-free. Not surprisingly, Northern Virginia localities - Fairfax, Loudoun, Arlington and Alexandria - as well as Hampton Roads, have smoke-free rates in the upper 70 percent range. The least smoke-free localities are Charlotte County and Petersburg, both of which have a smoke-free rate of 8 percent."

Some 34 states have statewide smoking bans in restaurants, Hardin said, including Tennessee, which might surprise some people. It's likely that Virginia will adopt some form of a smoking ban in restaurants - if not this year, then very soon, he said.

View Hardin's web site and maps >>