- The Washington Times - Friday, February 20, 2009

Virginia lawmakers Thursday approved legislation creating a partial smoking ban in restaurants and bars, scoring a major victory for Gov. Tim Kaine, a Democrat, and moving to restrict tobacco use in the state that was first in the country to harvest the plant.

“This is a good bill and historically it is a step forward, but one where Virginia is in accord with an awful lot of American states,” said Mr. Kaine, who promised his own prompt approval of the ban. “We’re never going to tackle the nation’s health care challenges if we don’t start off tackling the nation’s health challenges.”

The legislation’s passage in both the House and Senate on Thursday followed a compromise announced this month on a smoking ban between Speaker William J. Howell, Stafford Republican, and Mr. Kaine.

Lawmakers then wrangled over the extent of the ban, and insistence in the Republican-controlled House on amendments to the legislation led to members of both chambers entering into negotiations on the prohibition.

The Democrat-controlled Senate voted 27-13 Thursday in favor of a compromise that allows smoking in separate areas of restaurants that can be entered through a door and are “separately vented to prevent the recirculation of air” from the smoking to nonsmoking area.

The ban would take effect Dec. 1 and also permit smoking on open outdoor patios and in private clubs.

The House approved the measure 60-39, and it now heads to Mr. Kaine’s desk. The governor said he will await approval of another version of the ban legislation pending in the Senate and then quickly sign both bills.

“I think it will be signed quite promptly and in the quickest drying ink that I can find,” Mr. Kaine said.

The move to even partially snuff out smoking in Virginia runs counter to the state’s long history with the cash crop. In the early 1600s, English colonist John Rolfe discovered that tobacco would grow well in Virginia and could be sold for a profit back in England.

The plant later dominated the colony’s economy and has been regarded as a major force behind the prosperity of the state, although it also has been entangled with the history of slavery in the South.

Virginia ranked fourth in the country last year with its production of nearly 46 million pounds of tobacco - behind North Carolina, Kentucky and Tennessee, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service. Today, the state is home to the largest tobacco-product manufacturer in the country, Marlboro-maker Philip Morris USA, headquartered in Richmond.

Philip Morris has opposed the ban, and had been joined by health advocates who said the Howell-Kaine compromise was not stringent enough.

The ban’s approval marks perhaps the largest legislative accomplishment of Mr. Kaine’s gubernatorial tenure. The governor said the passage continued efforts that started in 2006, when he signed an executive order banning smoking in state buildings and vehicles.

“It also demonstrates persistence can be a virtue,” the governor said.

Twenty-three states and the District currently require most public places and workplaces, including restaurants and bars, to be smoke-free, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

News of the ban’s passage was met with both disdain and approval in Virginia bars.

Dennis Leigh, a Richmond resident smoking a pipe Thursday afternoon at Kitty O’Shea’s Pub in Arlington, said the decision to prohibit smoking should be left to establishment owners.

“We’re losing all our rights,” said Mr. Leigh, 67. “We got a lot of people coming in here that are nonsmokers that it doesn’t bother.”

But Dave Cahill, general manager of Ireland’s Four Courts pub in Arlington, said he already is making plans to place a patio area in the back of his building for smokers.

“From a restaurant point of view, I don’t think it’s going to make any difference to our business,” Mr. Cahill said. “It should be more friendly to families.”

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