In the District, a group called Smokefree-DC is pushing to reintroduce a similar measure this year. J.P. Szymkowicz, the group's volunteer attorney, was in the Virginia committee room when the vote was taken and the audience erupted in applause. "Considering that it happened in Virginia, which is the home of big tobacco, it made it all the more shocking and a sweet victory for our side," he said.
The Senate Education and Health Committee voted 8 to 7 to approve the bill, sponsored by Sen. William C. Mims (R-Loudoun). Smoking would be permitted only in private homes, bars that are sealed off from other areas, private functions and workplace areas that are not open to the public.
At the Austin Grill bar in Alexandria, smoker Doug Michaliga said of the proposed ban on smoking in public places: "I don't agree with it. In government buildings, I understand. But a bar? There shouldn't be a ban on smoking in bars."
(Jahi Chikwendiu -- The Washington Post)
Proposed Smoking Ban|
A bill to restrict smoking in public places was passed by the Senate's Education and Health Committee yesterday.
Senate Bill 1191: The Virginia Indoor Clean Air Act would prohibit smoking in most buildings or enclosed areas frequented by the public.
Exceptions: Among the exceptions would be private residences and autos; hotel rooms designated as smoking rooms; bar or lounge areas separately enclosed in any establishment in which smoking is prohibited; and private, separately enclosed office or work areas that are not entered by the general public in the normal course of business.
Penalties: Any person who continued to smoke where smoking is prohibited after having been asked to refrain would be subject to a civil penalty of not more than $100; subsequent offenses would draw a fine of $250. Failure to comply with the building restrictions would subject proprietors to a $200 civil penalty for the first offense and $500 for subsequent offenses.
"In Virginia, you have the choice to smoke. You have the choice to not smoke," Mims said. "This bill draws the appropriate line to respect the rights of both."
Kevin Hall, a spokesman for Warner, said the governor has said he supports reasonable smoking restrictions but has not reviewed Mims's bill.
The bill goes next to the Senate floor, where Mims and anti-smoking advocates predicted it could pass by a narrow margin. Then the fight would move to the House, where opposition to such smoking regulations is fierce.
In addition to the long history of acceptance of tobacco in Virginia, many lawmakers in the House frown upon what they consider "nannyism."
"I view it as a liberty issue," Del. Ryan T. McDougle (R-Hanover) said of a smoking ban. "Government has a role to protect the citizens, but they should not regulate every choice that citizens have."
Staff writer Annie Gowen contributed to this report.