It’s hard to believe that we’re already in week five of the 2008 session of the Virginia General Assembly. It’s been a productive and exciting session so far. Senate Bill 54, which I introduced and which encourages and supports the construction of affordable housing in Falls Church, passed the Senate unanimously and is on its way to the House of Delegates. Unfortunately, Senate Bill 300, which was strongly supported by the Falls Church City Council and which would have banned the carrying of dangerous weapons in government buildings, was not successful.
And there is still much work to be done. This year, more than ever, I am hopeful that Virginia is on its way to becoming smoke-free. The momentum is now on the side of health. Governor Tim Kaine has proposed a statewide ban on smoking for all restaurants. A recently released poll co-sponsored by the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association and the American Lung Association indicated that 75 percent of Virginia voters believe a ban is necessary; furthermore, 32 percent said they would go out more often if they were ensured that restaurants or bars were smoke-free (compared to only 6 percent who said they would go out less); a clear indicator of the possible economic boost that this bill would provide.
In a January 30 press release, Keenan Caldwell, state director of government relations for the American Cancer Society, reflected on the poll’s findings. “Clearly, there is very strong support for a smoke-free law among Virginia voters,” he said. “A strong majority of voters (88 percent) believe all workers and the public should be protected from secondhand smoke and that restaurants and bars would be healthier and more enjoyable if they were smoke-free.”
Many pieces of legislation regarding smoking in public places, each of varying degrees of regulation, have been proposed to the Senate. Harry Blevins’ Senate Bill 347 would prohibit smoking in all restaurants in the city of Chesapeake. Senate Bill 501, patroned by Mamie Locke and Ralph Northam and supported by the Administration, amends the Virginia Indoor Clean Air Act to prohibit smoking in any restaurant in the Commonwealth.
I have introduced Senate Bill 298, the Virginia Smoke Free Air Act. Being the most comprehensive of the proposals, this bill will prohibit smoking in almost all indoor or enclosed public places. Highlighting the bipartisan support for my legislation, Republican Phillip Hamilton has introduced the same bill in the House of Delegates. My bill would add Virginia’s name to the growing list of states that have banned public smoking.
Each of these pieces of legislation is a step in the right direction of providing Virginians protection from the proven and severe effects of secondhand smoke. In a typical year, 9,000 Virginians die from smoking-related illnesses; 8,000 of them are smokers; 1,000 die from second-hand smoke. On Tuesday February 5, all of these bills were successfully reported from the Senate.