Public smoking ban in Virginia snuffed out

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Friday, February 24, 2006

Virginia's legislature killed the public smoking ban bill. credit: Amadeust

The Virginia legislature's House of Delegates voted unanimously in a sub-committee to kill a bill that would ban public smoking in the Mid-Atlantic state. The vote was reached during a six-member sub-committee meeting on Thursday.

The Virginia Senate, the upper house of the General Assembly, passed on Monday a week ago a bill that would ban the indoor smoking of tobacco in restaurants, bowling alleys, and other public places, including workplaces. The bill was not expected to pass the House, but the thumbs up signal by the Senate signaled a shift in tolerance towards the product in a state known for its 400-year economic history steeped in the cultivation of the cash crop.

The General Laws sub-committee based its vote on the rights of property owners, rights that would be violated by a state-wide ban. The debate was largely centered on the issue of restaurant smoking. The committee noted there was no law that said a restaurant must allow smoking.

"They have a right not to go where people are smoking," said delegate John Cosgrove (R-Chesapeake). He noted the consumer and the restaurant businesses can decide whether to allow smoking. "They have a right and responsibility to take care of themselves," he said.

A Virginia Beach restaurant owner, Matt Falvey, said "The plain truth is that the majority of our citizens do not smoke, and do not want to be around smoke," according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Falvey, who owns three restaurants, said "In addition, restaurant workers should not be subjected to the harm caused by secondhand smoke."

Falvey said he has smoking sections in his restaurants because not to would put him at a competitive disadvantage with other restaurants that have smoking sections. An across the board state-wide ban would level the playing field by settling the issue.

Senate Bill 649, known as the Virginia Indoor Clean Air Act, to become law in the nation's 4th largest tobacco growing state would require passage by the House. Last year, the Senate killed a similar bill to ban indoor smoking in public places. New procedural rules introduced in Virginia this year allow a bill's passage to be blocked by sub-committee, but there remains a slim chance it could be revived.

The original version of the bill, which allowed cities and counties to decide locally on the issue, was voted down by the Senate. The bill was brought back by Brandon Bell of Roanoke County, and passed in a revised version that would make than ban state-wide, with no local authority on the issue. The measure was passed by the Senate in a 21 - 18 vote, after it received the support from the Virginia Restaurant Association.

In Maryland, a similar ban was voted down this week by a House committee. New Jersey is the latest state to join the ranks of a total of 11 states that ban smoking in restaurants, bars, and workplaces.

Soybean over-took tobacco as Virginia’s top cash crop in 2005.

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