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Virginia House Misses Historic Opportunity to Protect Health By Voting Against Smoke-Free Bill

Statement of William V. Corr Executive Director, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
April 04, 2007

Washington, DC — The Virginia House of Delegates today missed a truly historic opportunity to protect the health of the commonwealth’s citizens by voting against legislation amended by Governor Kaine to require that all restaurants be smoke-free. Today’s vote willfully ignores both the overwhelming evidence that secondhand smoke causes premature death and serious disease and the overwhelming public support for smoke-free environments. We urge Virginians to remember how their legislators voted today and to cast their own votes in the next election for the right to breathe clean, smoke-free air. We also urge Governor Kaine to veto the remaining legislation that would further weaken Virginia’s already ineffectual protections against secondhand smoke.

While today’s vote is disappointing, it is a sign of the tremendous momentum in support of smoke-free laws that one of the nation’s leading tobacco-growing states came so close to passing such a law. We applaud Governor Kaine and the bill’s legislative champions, especially Sen. J. Brandon Bell II, for their courageous leadership in seeking to protect the health of Virginians. It is shameful that opponents of the legislation resorted to deceptive tactics, such as claiming the bill would apply to hot dog stands and other non-restaurant locations, in order to defeat it. Tobacco giant Philip Morris also deserves significant blame for breaking its promise to stop opposing smoke-free workplace laws by opposing this legislation, along with other tobacco companies. Because of today’s vote, too many Virginians will be forced to continue putting their health at risk in order to earn a paycheck or enjoy a meal in a restaurant.

Virginia today missed the opportunity to join the growing number of cities, states and even entire countries that have passed strong smoke-free laws. In the U.S., Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico and 17 states have passed smoke-free laws that include restaurants and bars. The states are Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont and Washington. Four other states - Florida, Idaho, Louisiana and Nevada - have smoke-free laws that include restaurants, but exempt stand-alone bars. Hundreds of cities and entire countries have also taken action, including Bermuda, Bhutan, England, France (effective 2008), Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, New Zealand, Northern Ireland, Norway, Scotland, Sweden and Uruguay.

The need for protection from secondhand smoke in all workplaces and public places has never been clearer. In issuing a groundbreaking report on secondhand smoke in June 2006, U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona stated, “The debate is over. The science is clear: Secondhand smoke is not a mere annoyance, but a serious health hazard that causes premature death and disease in children and nonsmoking adults.” Secondhand smoke contains more than 4,000 chemicals, including at least 69 carcinogens. The Surgeon General found that secondhand smoke is a proven cause of lung cancer, heart disease, serious respiratory illnesses such as bronchitis and asthma, low birth weight and sudden infant death syndrome. The Surgeon General also found that secondhand smoke is responsible for tens of thousands of deaths in the United States each year, there is no safe level of exposure, and only smoke-free laws provide effective protection from secondhand smoke.

The evidence is also clear that smoke-free laws protect health without harming business. As the U.S. Surgeon General concluded, “Evidence from peer-reviewed studies shows that smoke-free policies and regulations do not have an adverse impact on the hospitality industry.”

It’s time for every state and community to protect everyone’s right to breathe clean air.