Hopes for Public Smoking Ban Are Snuffed Out

By Anita Kumar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 15, 2008

RICHMOND, Feb. 14 -- The Virginia House of Delegates defeated several proposals Thursday to prohibit smoking in restaurants, stores, offices and other public places, effectively killing all anti-smoking legislation for this year's General Assembly session.

For the fourth year in a row, the Republican-controlled House killed a smoking ban in the state, where tobacco farming and cigarette manufacturing have been integral to the economy.

The District and more than 20 states, including Maryland, have banned smoking in restaurants and other public places because of health concerns.

Claire Mullins, a spokeswoman for the American Lung Association, said that it took Maryland several years to pass a bill and that it will probably take just as long, or longer, for Virginia to do so.

"Smoking tends to be a cultural thing, ingrained in our psyche," she said.

The House decision, which was not entirely unexpected, was a setback for Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D), who had made a smoking ban one of his priorities for the 60-day legislative session.

A subcommittee of the House General Laws Committee considered four bills that the Senate had passed, including one favored by Kaine that would have prohibited smoking in restaurants and bars.

The six-member subcommittee, controlled by Republicans, did not debate the bills before Del. David B. Albo (R-Fairfax) suggested that they be set aside. Committee members agreed after chairman Thomas D. Gear (R-Hampton) had repeatedly asked why restaurants do not ban smoking.

"I'm sympathetic, but I don't see something I can live with," Albo said.

Last week, the same subcommittee killed eight similar proposals from House members. Thursday's action means all the anti-smoking bills introduced in the 60-day legislative session are dead.

Kaine said it's "not surprising" that the bills were killed in a subcommittee without a recorded vote. "These guys don't want to be on the record with something like that," he said. "The leadership of the House is very afraid to have this matter voted on in an up-or-down vote. They want to bury it in subcommittee."

The proposals varied. Some included an outright ban in all public places or only in restaurants; one measure would have given local jurisdictions the option to enact smoking bans.

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