By Timothy Dwyer and Lisa Rein
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, March 27, 2007
Smokers in Virginia and Maryland were put on notice yesterday that the days of enjoying a cigarette after a good meal or with a cocktail may be numbered. Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) proposed outlawing smoking in the state's restaurants, and the Maryland Senate approved a similar ban that applies to every bar and restaurant.
Kaine stopped short of seeking a wider smoking ban in most workplaces and public spaces, as some anti-smoking advocates had wanted. But he went further than lawmakers, amending a bill they sent him last month allowing smoking at restaurants that posted a sign near the entrance stating that smoking is permitted.
In Maryland, the Senate overwhelmingly passed a statewide ban on smoking in bars and restaurants. Lawmakers must reconcile several differences with a bill passed Saturday by the House of Delegates, including the process by which businesses could seek hardship exemptions, before sending the legislation to Gov. Martin O'Malley (D). The governor has said he would sign a statewide ban, a long-sought priority of health advocates.
Kaine, facing a midnight deadline to act on several bills from the session that ended Feb. 24, used his power to make changes in legislation. Lawmakers will return April 4 to consider Kaine's proposed ban, and there were early signs yesterday that it could meet resistance in a state with a rich tobacco history.
House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith (R-Salem), who sponsored the original smoking bill, said he would not support Kaine's proposal. "I gave my word that the bill would not be amended any further when it came out of committee," Griffith said. "I certainly don't have any ill will toward the governor, but I was hoping he would come in with something in between the bill and a total ban."
The ban in Virginia might have enough support in the Senate, but it is unclear whether it could get enough votes for approval in the House of Delegates. "I don't know. It is hard to say," Griffith said of the chances for approval. "I know the bill never would have gotten out of committee had I not given my word on not allowing any amendments."
Kaine predicted yesterday that the smoking ban will cause some noise in Richmond. "It's a simple one, and it's likely to occasion quite a bit of debate on April 4," he said.
In Annapolis, the bill passed 33 to 13 without debate. Both versions of the Maryland bill would allow businesses to seek hardship exemptions, but the House version would make the state the arbiter, while the Senate version gives that authority to local governments.
The Senate version of the bill also includes an exemption for private, nonprofit clubs and fraternal groups such as the American Legion. House lawmakers did not exempt clubs, arguing that they would have an unfair advantage over restaurants.
Both versions of the bill include provisions to allow counties to implement stricter bans than the state imposes.
Montgomery County Council President Marilyn Praisner (D-Eastern County) said she thinks it is unlikely that the council would vote to allow local bars and restaurants to seek hardship waivers. Her county imposed a ban in 2003.
"Businesses have been operating under a smoke-free ban," she said. "They'd be asking to restructure with smoking. Given the fact that we've been smoke-free for some years, I don't think we'd want to implement that."
In Virginia, the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association and the American Lung Association, which generated a letter-writing campaign to urge Kaine to prohibit smoking in all restaurants, said it will continue its lobbying effort with the General Assembly to get the ban passed.
"We applaud [Kaine] for taking leadership in this very important health issue," said Terry R. Hargrove, director of community relations for the American Lung Association of Virginia. "We are very confident that the bill will pass the Senate, and we also expect to pick up some support in the House."
Bill Phelps, a spokesman for Richmond-based Philip Morris USA, the world's largest cigarette maker, said that the company supported partial smoking restrictions in Virginia. "We have worked with interested parties, including the governor, and shared our position that we supported banning smoking in restaurants with the exception of the bar area of restaurants. . . . We think the governor's proposal goes too far."
Kaine said he opposed banning smoking in all public places. "I remain opposed to a widespread, general ban on smoking in public. This bill, with my amendment, is narrowly targeted to prevent smoking in restaurants, which is an important step to protect the health of both patrons and employees."
William D. Lecos, president of the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce, said if the amendment prohibits cigar smoking in the bar area of power lunch places such as the Capital Grille in Tysons Corner, the impact might be to "destroy commerce as we know it." Lecos was not ready to take a position on the amendment: "We are still studying it with the recognition that free choice in the marketplace is always our preference."
At City Tavern Grille in Manassas, a popular restaurant in Old Town, owner Pete Veltsistas welcomed the news of Kaine's proposed smoking ban. "I hope it happens," he said. "I would like to have a nonsmoking restaurant. For us, it would be a blessing to have it pass. I'm with that."
Customers in the smoking portion of the restaurant had mixed feelings. Denis Vinson was sitting with his regular lunch partners, Doug Carlock and Kendall Ball. Carlock and Ball are nonsmokers; Vinson smokes a pipe.
"It looks like something is going to happen nationwide," Vinson said. "I can't see it passing in Virginia, though." He said the smoking ban wouldn't affect his lunch habit. "I'd just leave my pipe in the car," he said.
Carlock was against the smoking ban. "In the scheme of things, I think it is a dumb idea," he said. "There are better things to go after than smoking."
Staff writers John Wagner and Amy Gardner contributed to this report.