Feb. 19 2009
Washington, D.C. — We appreciate the intent of Governor Kaine and members of the General Assembly who recognize the harmful effects of secondhand smoke and sought to provide some protection for the public and workers in restaurants with the smoke-free restaurant legislation that passed today. We only wish this legislation had gone further and protected all Virginia restaurant workers from secondhand smoke.
It is unfortunate that Virginia will not join the 24 other states that have passed smoke-free laws that cover ALL restaurants and bars — the cheapest, fairest, and most effective strategy for protecting all workers and patrons from the dangers of secondhand smoke.
Fortunately, several House amendments that would have added significant loopholes and rendered the bill virtually unenforceable were defeated. However, the final bill still includes provisions that would continue to expose workers and patrons to secondhand smoke and put their health at risk, including exemptions for private clubs and smoking rooms in restaurants - all of which will make enforcement challenging and costly.
Moving forward, the challenge will be making sure the law is effectively implemented and enforced. If the state is strongly committed to enforcement of the law, there will be many more smoke-free restaurants in the Commonwealth. If it isn't, the exemptions in the law mean that those who want to continue to expose their patrons and employees to the hazards of secondhand smoke will be able to do so.
We look forward to working with Governor Kaine to ensure that the law passed today is as effective as possible. Moreover, we hope the General Assembly will work with the public health community in the next session to enact a comprehensive smoke-free policy that protects all Virginians.