Kaine Considers Ban on Smoking In State Buildings
Wednesday, August 30, 2006
RICHMOND, Aug. 29 -- Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) said Tuesday that he is "actively considering" ordering a ban on smoking in state government buildings and vehicles, a move that would affect 100,000 employees and inch the commonwealth closer to a growing national consensus about the dangers of secondhand smoke.
Kaine's willingness to consider a smoking ban is especially symbolic in a state where tobacco has been king since it was first planted by colonists in 1609. Philip Morris, one of the state's top employers, makes nearly 470 million cigarettes a day at its Richmond plant.
Responding to questions from two Northern Virginia listeners on Washington Post Radio, Kaine said, "I was surprised to find out that there is no state smoking ban in state facilities, and that's something that I'm actively considering right now."
The governor also reiterated his firm opposition to a government-imposed ban on smoking in private workplaces, calling it "too much of a reach for government."
"I just don't see government having to tell all these folks that if you allow the public in your place of business, you can't smoke in your own office," Kaine said.
That drew a sharp rebuke from state and national anti-smoking activists, who accused Kaine and other Virginia politicians of continuing to bow to the will of cigarette companies such as Philip Morris, which moved its headquarters to Virginia in 2004.
"I hope when you talk to the governor you ask him to explain the difference between protecting state workers and protecting all workers," said Paul Billings, vice president for national policy at the American Lung Association. "There is still significant political power associated with the tobacco industry. That's what's driving some of this rhetoric."
Tobacco was the state's leading export for nearly 400 years until being displaced unceremoniously last year by computer memory chips.
Altria, the parent company of Philip Morris USA, is one of the top political donors to state races in Virginia, having given $2.25 million during the past decade. The company gave $80,000 to Kaine's gubernatorial campaign and $50,000 to help stage his inauguration this year.
A Philip Morris spokesman declined to comment on a possible ban in state offices. But he said the company does "understand and agree that people should be able to avoid being around secondhand smoke, particularly in places where they must go, such as public buildings."
Kaine spokesman Kevin Hall said political contributions had no impact on Kaine's long-standing position on smoking. He said Kaine believes the marketplace will pressure private businesses to go smoke-free and said a decision to ban smoking in state buildings could serve as a positive example.
"The governor's position would allow an employer flexibility to devise a policy that works for employees and customers," Hall said.