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Smoking Ban, Anyone?

Governor's comments renew call for state-wide smoking ban.

Anti-smoking advocates have renewed calls for a state-wide ban on smoking in all public establishments after Gov. Timothy Kaine (D) stated last week that he is "actively considering" an order to ban smoking in state-owned facilities.

"We feel that [Kaine's statement] sets a good example for the rest of the state, however we regret that the governor has not gone forward to call for a complete ban on smoking," said Terry Hargrove, a spokesperson for the American Lung Association of Virginia.

Kaine stated that he is considering the possibility of evoking an executive order to ban smoking in enclosed buildings on state property. Individual building smoking policy is presently set by facility managers. The state employs approximately 100,000 people.

"Do you really need more evidence that smoking causes rising health-care costs?" said Kaine spokesperson Kevin Hall. "If we can promote a healthy environment and healthy lifestyles among our employees ... it would lower our healthcare costs."

Smoking has been prohibited on all enclosed property owned, leased or used for events of the Fairfax County government since 1989.

Even though Kaine might call for the ban on smoking in state facilities, he has refused to support legislation for a state-imposed restriction on smoking in privately owned businesses such as restaurants and bars, Hall added.

This doesn't mean that Kaine is discouraging businesses from imposing their own smoking bans, but he "doesn't think that it's the role of the state government to tell private business what they can and cannot do within their businesses," Hall said.

WHILE HARGROVE SUPPORTS any decision to ban smoking across the board at state facilities, the ultimate goal for the American Lung Association of Virginia is a government-imposed state-wide smoking ban, she said.

Among the 14 states that have already passed non-smoking laws include California, New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts and Delaware.

"We approach this issue from a worker's rights point of view," Hargrove said. "It is the right of every worker to have healthy working conditions and we feel that a smoking ban helps to achieve that goal."

Hargrove added that she believed a state-wide ban on smoking in places like restaurants and bars would not adversely affect business, a claim often made by opponents of a possible ban.

She pointed to an increase in business recorded at restaurants in New York following the imposition of non-smoking rules as evidence of this.

ANY BILL DECLARING Virginia a non-smoking state would take some time and effort to become law, said State Del. Mark Sickles (D-43), a member of the House Committee on Health, Welfare and Institutions.

Last year, the Virginia Indoor Clean Air Act, which would have prohibited smoking in most buildings open to the public passed the state Senate but died in the House of Delegates.

A poll released last year by a coalition of public health groups said that 59 percent of Virginians would support a statewide ban on smoking.

Sickles said that while he usually doesn't prefer restrictive government policies, he stands with these individuals.

"I think it's time for people who don't smoke to be free of the smoking of other people," he said. "When I go to California, it's a relief to come out of a restaurant and not have the smell of smoke on you. You don't get that in Richmond."

But Sickles added that the possibility of a ban on smoking in the near future is slim, and that more public demand for the law would need to manifest itself before anything is done.

A statewide smoking ban "is the future, this is going to happen sometime, but I just don't think it's going to happen this winter," he said. "I think the public needs to continue to be vocal about this."

"That's the only way this is going to pass."