[Virginia GASP] Smoking Denies Access

                        At Virginia State Government

Roanoke Times article

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:

While it is a tremendous improvement to have committee rooms that now have "NO SMOKING" signs posted in them, smoking still is present in the lobby outside of the largest auditoriums in the General Assembly Building.  This is a violation of the Virginia Indoor Clean Air Act, which GASP has recently brought again to the attention of the Clerks.

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
                 settlement continues
                 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

                    RICHMOND --
                    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.

    The Roanoke Times, March 22, 2000

                 Environmental tobacco smoke is a barrier to entering
                 government buildings
                 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 ("Smoking puts
                 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.

[Virginia GASP]  Updated March 24, 2000