Virginia GASP's Executive Director, Hilton Oliver, wrote to the Clerks of the House and the Senate, regarding the smoking in the State Capitol, and the General Assembly Building. Hilton Oliver pointed out that the Virginia Indoor Clean Air Act was being violated in many places. Following those letters, some changes were instituted, but some violations still exist. A letter has recently been sent to the Clerks again noting the remaining violations.
Some changes which GASP helped bring about include:
Below are excerpts
from an excellent Roanoke Times article by C. S. Murphy on smoking
at the Capitol and General Assembly Building.
Then there follows an editorial by Anne Morrow Donley and Dr. David Lewis.
EXCERPTS from The
Roanoke Times, full
article at http://www.roanoke.com
Sunday, March 12, 2000
Tobacco smoke lingers as debate on tobacco
Smoking puts legislators in fix
Even with a decline in smokers' ranks, a long history of smoking freely
in the General Assembly has taken its toll.
By C.S. MURPHY
THE ROANOKE TIMES
Until last year, the Virginia Indoor Clean Air Act was largely
ignored by lawmakers and lobbyists in the very buildings where the
legislation was crafted in 1990. The Capitol and the neighboring
General Assembly Building are controlled by the state House and
Senate and are distinguished in code from other state-owned
Until recently, some legislators and visitors openly puffed away as
thousands of schoolchildren trooped through the ornate halls of the
second-oldest working capitol in the nation.
"I certainly think they are role models, and there are a lot of young
people down there," said Donna Reynolds, director of
communications and field services with the American Lung
Association of Virginia. "Making the legislature smoke-free would be
a very positive message to send our young people."
It was only within the past five years that legislators stopped their
practice of smoking at their desks on the House and Senate floors. In
fact, spittoons aren't long gone.
Fewer legislators smoke tobacco products these days, and most
who do discreetly duck out of public view, leaving the House and
Senate chambers to smoke in alcoves for members only.
But the odor of burning tobacco still wafts upward into the public
gallery where schoolchildren and other visitors perch to quietly view
the lawmakers at work.
Sometimes, senators and delegates quickly stamp out their
cigarettes and rush back to their desks in time to record crucial votes.
Just last week, one delegate hastily tossed a butt into a trash can,
inadvertently leaving the garbage smoldering. The House
sergeant-at-arms snuffed out the potential blaze.
Marble busts of the seven presidents who were Virginia natives
surround him [statue George Washington] ...
The figures bear brownish-yellow stains many believe were caused
by years of exposure to smoke and dirt.
For most of the Capitol's 212-year existence, legislators and
visitors smoked freely in the ornamental room. To this day, the
Senate's sergeant-at-arms sometimes smokes a cigar mere yards from
the precious artwork.
Schaar , a nonsmoker, and House Clerk Bruce Jamerson, a
smoker, reduced the number of open smoking areas in Capitol Square
last year after reviewing the Virginia Indoor Clean Air Act.
Smoking is permitted in both the General Assembly Building and
the Capitol where there are ashtrays. Signs are posted in both
buildings to inform visitors of that policy.
But standing ashtrays are often moved out of designated smoking
areas and into spaces that are meant to be nonsmoking.
But the removed ashtrays still often make their way back to
counters outside the Senate's two large committee rooms in the east
Smoking is permitted in private offices in the General Assembly
Building, and there is a large designated smoking area between the
two main House committee rooms on the first floor of the west wing.
"They aren't major entrances and exits that the public uses all the
time," Schaar said of the smoking area.
That area is often thick with smoke, especially when key
negotiations get tense.
"Frankly, for a lot of folks it's become a true access issue,"
Reynolds said. "Folks who have serious lung conditions don't have
access to certain areas of those buildings."
And that means they don't have full access to their state
government, she said.
Environmental tobacco smoke is a barrier to entering
Virginia defies its own law on smoking
By ANNE MORROW DONLEY and DR. DAVID O. LEWIS
THANK YOU for reporter C.S. MURPHY's article
legislators in fix," March 12) referring to the dangers of accessing state
government when smoke is a barrier.
Environmental tobacco smoke, or ETS, is both a health problem and
a barrier to access for individuals of all ages. The web site details, with
footnotes, some of the health problems, and gives a brochure on the
state law regarding smoking in public.
Some of the health problems linked to ETS include 500,000 deaths
a year in the United States from ETS-related cancers, heart diseases
and respiratory diseases.
In addition, a recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine
noted that community-acquired pneumonia is also linked to smoking
and to ETS, leading to 40,000 deaths a year. The study found that 58
percent of cases were current smokers, and 24 percent were
nonsmokers exposed to ETS for one hour or more daily.
These are all reasons enough to prohibit smoking in all workplaces.
Everyone, presumably even tobacco executives, finds breathing more
popular than smoking.
GASP was a major factor in getting the Virginia Indoor Clean Air
Act passed a decade ago. This law established a bare minimum for
government and private businesses to follow, allowing any business or
government agency to prohibit smoking.
The state government still has not come into compliance with the law.
For example, the law says that if smoking is permitted, one should not
have to pass through smoking in order to reach the no-smoking area.
But the smoke in the lobby outside the House Committee main
auditoriums in the General Assembly Building is so bad that people
refer to it as "Death Row."
An inexpensive NO SMOKING sign would solve the problem, but
the state charged taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars to filter out a
few particulates, while the cancer-causing toxins remain. If smoking
were banned in the entire lobby of that floor, and indeed in the entire
building, it would allow access for everyone, regardless of addictions.
Smokers have temporary nicotine alternatives, like the patch or gum.
But breathing is a necessary function of life. Why should everyone be
forced to suffer the addictions of smokers, including limits on
ANNE MORROW DONLEY is co-founder of the Virginia Group
to Alleviate Smoking in Public Inc., and DR. DAVID O. LEWIS is
chairman of the Health Care Advocacy Group of Southside Virginia
networking with the Virginia Group to Alleviate Smoking in Public Inc.