Indoor ban on smoking has support
A coalition of public-health groups released a poll yesterday indicating strong support in Virginia for a ban on smoking in indoor public places.
Fifty-nine percent of the Virginia residents who were polled said they would support a statewide law prohibiting smoking in most public places, including restaurants and bars. Of those, 43 percent said they strongly favored a ban and 16 somewhat favored it.
Twenty-five percent said they would strongly oppose such a law, and 16 percent said they would somewhat oppose it.
The poll was financed by the American Lung Association of Virginia and other health groups, which are backing legislation that would toughen the state's indoor-smoking laws.
"It clearly shows that a majority of Virginians are ready to see some action in this area, and they clearly are telling us that they want to be protected from secondhand smoke," said Donna Reynolds, community-relations director for the American Lung Association of Virginia.
The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Bill Mims, R-Loudoun, would prohibit indoor smoking in most public places, including offices. Violators would be fined $100 for a first offense and $200 for subsequent offenses. Proprietors of establishments that ignore facets of the law would be subject to a $200 civil penalty for the first offense and $500 for subsequent offenses.
The legislation, which is structured after a law passed in Delaware, would provide for some exceptions. Hotels could have rooms where smoking is allowed as long the number does not exceed 25 percent of the hotel's total. Businesses could have smoking in "private, separately enclosed office or work areas that are not entered by the general public during the normal course of business."
Specialty tobacco stores also would be exempt. Bars could allow smoking only in separately enclosed areas away from nonsmoking patrons. Proprietors would have to place signs stating "Warning: Smoking Permitted" in areas where smoking is allowed.
Jamie Drogin, a spokeswoman for Richmond-based cigarette maker Philip Morris USA, said the company believes that "reasonable regulation" is the best way to address smoking in public. That includes business owners, especially in the hospitality industry, having some decision-making authority in their establishments.
But Drogin said the nation's largest cigarette company has decided to no longer lobby or participate in any coalition-related activities on the issue.
The public-health groups' poll also found strong support for workplace smoking bans -- 84 percent of respondents said they agreed with the statement that "all Virginia workers should be protected from exposure to secondhand smoke in the workplace."
And 77 percent said they agreed that "the rights of customers and employees to breathe clean air in restaurants" is more important than "the rights of smokers to smoke inside restaurants."
The poll of 625 registered voters was conducted Jan. 4-6 by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research Inc. It has a margin of error of plus-or-minus 4 percentage points.
Fifteen percent of those polled identified themselves as daily smokers, while 10 percent said they were occasional smokers. Studies indicate that about 25 percent of Virginians smoke.
Of the poll respondents, 27 percent said they were former smokers, and 48 percent said they have never smoked.
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