'Momentum' Seen for Smoke-Free Restaurants

Gov. Timothy Kaine backs a smoking ban.
Gov. Timothy Kaine backs a smoking ban. (By Dean Hoffmeyer-- Associated Press)
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By Michael Laris
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) yesterday renewed his bid to ban smoking at restaurants in the commonwealth, telling legislators and others gathered at an Arlington County restaurant that much has changed since the proposal was torpedoed last year.

Standing near a wood-burning pizza stove at the Liberty Tavern, Kaine said that scientific evidence, a change in General Assembly procedure and an expected barrage of proposals for restricting smoking, including some from Republicans, could make passage of some limits possible.

"The momentum for this bill is really moving the right way," Kaine said.

Tavern co-owner Stephen Fedorchak, standing before platters of Maryland and Vermont goat cheese, said his restaurant's decision to be smoke-free has been good for business. "We wanted the restaurant to smell like good food cooking," Fedorchak said.

But opponents of the bill, submitted this week by Del. David L. Englin (D-Alexandria), said restaurants should not be forced to prohibit smoking.

"Sixty-seven percent of restaurants have gone smoke-free on their own. Obviously, the market is telling restaurants to go smoke-free," said Megan Svajda, director of government relations for the Virginia Hospitality and Travel Association, which represents restaurants, hotels and resorts. "There's no need for a government mandate."

Kaine recited the same public health statistics that failed to sway a House of Delegates committee last year, among them that 1,700 Virginians die each year because of secondhand smoke and that restaurant workers have a higher risk of dying of lung cancer in part because of customers who smoke. It was the fourth consecutive year that a smoking ban had been defeated.

But Kaine said his discussions with legislators from both parties have given him hope.

House leaders, for instance, say they are ending the practice of holding unrecorded committee votes. That arrangement helped make last year's defeat in a subcommittee of the House General Laws Committee easier, he said.

"They didn't want to be accountable for a yes-no vote," Kaine said. "We ought to be on record on everything we do."

The governor also said he expects the bill he supports to be joined by more-extensive proposed bans of smoking in public places and less-restrictive efforts submitted by Republicans, making some action possible.

But Del. David B. Albo (R-Fairfax), who voted against the restaurant smoking ban last year, said Kaine does not appear to be seeking compromise.

"They had a big election win and they want to run around shoving their bills down people's throats without compromise," Albo said. "It's just purely political."

Albo said he plans to submit a narrower bill. It would ban smoking in some restaurants with key exceptions. It would exclude private clubs and restaurants that have designated smoking areas set apart from nonsmoking areas. It would also exclude cigar bars and establishments restricted to customers 18 and older, Albo said.

Del. Robert H. Brink (D-Arlington) plans to submit a bill that would allow a ban in Northern Virginia restaurants. Given the bans in Maryland and the District, failing to do so would make Northern Virginia the region's "ashtray," he said.

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