[Virginia GASP]   VIRGINIA -- General Assembly Building & SMOKE

VIRGINIA -- November 12, 2002 -- The Joint Rules Committee refused to move into the 21st century regarding the health issue of secondhand smoke and the question of equal access for all citizens.  The question under discussion was the skyscraper General Assembly Building.  The rule, effective December 1, 2002, prohibits smoking anywhere except in the private offices of the legislators and their aides.

Virginia's legislature, a “citizen” legislature [as opposed to a "full time" legislature] meets regularly only in the months of January, February, and the beginning of March, with a one day veto session in April.  Some committees have meetings as needed throughout the rest of the year.

Not all of the members of the Senate and House Rules Committees were present at the November 12, 2002 meeting.  Those who attended:

Senators Stolle, Stosch, Trumbo, Chichester, Colgan;
Delegates Hall, Councill, Griffith, Putney, Callahan, Parrish, Wardrup
After great lengths of debate over procedural rules that they were considering for the 2003 session, they came to point 5 on the agenda, the smoking/no-smoking issue.  This took less time than did the procedural rules.

The House and Senate clerks had polled the 140 members of the legislature.
Results of the poll:

HOUSE:  26 out of 100 in the House had responded
    15 (more than half) said there should be a total ban
      7 said smoking only in offices
      3 said keep it as is
      1 said let the Rules Comm. decide

SENATE:  4 out of 40 in the Senate had responded
     2 said there should be a total ban
     2 said to keep the status quo

Wardrup said they should either just go ahead and ban it, or leave it as is.

GASP was the only group to speak, and urged a total ban on smoking in the building, to protect the health of everyone who works there, including the cleaning staff, and citizens who need access (referenced to the Americans with Disabilities Act), as well as to save money.  Full written remarks are included.

Stolle moved to ban smoking (what the majority of those polled wanted).  Griffith moved a substitute motion, to prohibit smoking in all public areas such as hallways, bathrooms [GASP reminded them that government bathrooms are already smoke-free in the state law], and permit smoking only in "private" offices of the legislators and their aides (which only 7 wanted).

Regarding the Capitol building, where citizens who sit in the balconies above the floor of the House and Senate are forced to breathe the smoke that rises to the galleries --  Griffith said, we are talking only about the GA Building.  His motion passed, with Wardrup and Parrish voting against it.  The rule becomes effective December 1, 2002.

So while some other Virginia state buildings are totally smoke-free, once again, the legislators have set themselves apart from the citizens.  How “private” is an office that is paid for by tax money?  How “private” is an office when citizens seek access to speak with the legislator or the aides?  How much money will be lost by re-circulating of smoke, the still present threat of fires, the health care costs from those who must enter those smoking dens to deal with the legislators, or to clean the rooms?

This would have been a good motion for 30 years ago, but not for today's world.   On the plus side, at least now there will be no more smoking in the lobbies outside the committee rooms, which was against state law anyway [if you permit smoking at all, you must not arrange it so that people have to walk through smoke to get to the no-smoking].  There was tremendous smoke hanging in the air especially outside the first floor House committee rooms and House clerical offices.

GASP has been working slowly but steadily over the last 12 years to try to bring the state General Assembly Building and the Capitol into compliance with the state law.  Now at last the GA Building is closer to full compliance.  The Capitol building still allows smoking from the legislators to drift into the balconies above them, where the visitors and voters sit.

Those unfamiliar with Virginia, must realize that prior to the passage of the 1990 Virginia Indoor Clean Air Act, carried by Senator Thomas Michie and Delegate Bernard Cohen, smoking was permitted everywhere -- in elevators, in hospital emergency rooms and waiting rooms, in schools -- everywhere.  You could not escape it.  GASP was the only group that urged the introduction of this law, and the primary group that saw it through to passage.  While in some news articles today, former Delegate Richard Cranwell seeks to claim credit for this 1990 bill, his bill began with a one line sentence, that grew into the mirror of the full bill, as he worked to lessen the impact of the original Cohen-Michie bill, and in fact sought to defeat the original bill until the momentum of it became evident.

Someone once said, “When the end of the world comes, I hope to be in Virginia, because everything happens there 50 years later.”

Virginia Group to Alleviate Smoking in Public, Inc., GASP® , a non-profit organization
4856 Haygood Road #102, Virginia Beach, VA 23456  ·  757-490-0126  ·  www.gasp.org
Anne Morrow Donley, President, Co-Founder

November 12, 2002

The Honorable Members of the Joint Rules Committee
Re.:  Smoking, No-Smoking in the Virginia State Capitol and General Assembly Building

The 1990 Virginia Indoor Clean Air Act listed a minimum of what is required to protect people from the hazards of secondhand smoke.  The law permits one to move beyond that minimum to making a building entirely a no-smoking zone.

The Capitol and General Assembly Building are still not in full compliance of the state law.  For example, there is smoking in the lobby area outside of the committee meeting rooms.  The law states that one should not have to pass through smoking in order to reach the no-smoking areas.

Smoking on the floor of the House or Senate is a hazard not only to those in that area, but to the visitors in the gallery above, who cannot escape the smoke.  Again, this is contrary to the letter and intent of the law.

Those who smoke in so-called private offices spread the toxins, carcinogens, and particulate matter throughout the building through the various heating and air conditioning ducts.  In a government building, the entire building is funded by taxpayers, and so it is questionable whether it is truly “private” or not.

The health dangers of secondhand smoke are well documented and established, with more added to the list each year, causing and exacerbating many diseases including several types of  cancers, immediate strokes, heart disease, ear and eye pain, migraine headaches, asthma, and other illnesses.  Expensive cleaning of art treasures has been accomplished, and one of the main reasons for the discoloration and deterioration of these treasures was the smoking around them over the years.

There is also the question of access.  Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, citizens should be permitted access to their government facilities, to talk with legislators, to talk with staff, and to be present at meetings.  Smoke is a barrier, just as steps are a barrier for those who must use a wheel chair.  While the Joint Rules Committee polled the legislators for their opinions, this is a matter that goes beyond the pleasure of the legislators, to the health and welfare of the citizens of the Commonwealth, and the access they are guaranteed to these buildings.  The threat of smoke and the health dangers it presents denies access to those who are concerned about their health, and the lethal dangers of smoke.

Over the past 11 years, GASP has sought through letters and conversations with the Clerks of the House and the Senate to bring these buildings step by step into compliance.

It is time for the law to be complied with, and the 21st century is definitely the time to make these two buildings, like many other government buildings, completely NO-SMOKING.  This would save lives, save maintenance costs, save cleaning costs, reduce the risk of fires, and eliminate the likelihood of legal suits.  To say that we have come a long way, is like telling a person in a wheel chair not to worry, that there are only 10 steps to negotiate instead of 25.

Those who face addictive nicotine cravings can alleviate these by using various over the counter and prescription aids, such as the patch and nicotine gum.  Certainly there is no other room in the Capitol or General Assembly Building to accommodate the legislators’ exclusive use of other addictive drugs or alcoholic beverages.

It would be exorbitantly expensive to build and to maintain a separate smoking section to accommodate the addictive needs of a minority.  The smoky air with its toxins, carcinogens, and particulate matter, will escape each time the door is opened, even with a special exhaust system, and be re-circulated throughout the building.

Unless those who smoke there are also willing to be the ones who clean the building, make and pay for the needed repairs and the increased maintenance caused by the discoloration of nicotine and the dirt from the particulates, a paid cleaning staff will be subjected to the health hazards of this smoke, and they must also handle the debris.  This is not only dangerous to their health, but places the authorities who permit this in a precarious legal position.  Cases in this nation and elsewhere in the world have been won by people who were subjected to smoke in their workplace, and have collected under Workers’ Compensation, for example.

I draw your attention to the past, and the case of a state worker whose health was failing due to the smoking in her department.  The state bought a $34 respirator for her, telling her she should wear it, and let others smoke around her.  Her case was not the only one.  This total lack of compassion, and a refusal to provide a safe working environment for staff, and safe access for citizens must be cast aside.  The health and welfare of the staff and other citizens, their recognized right of access, and a need to reduce costs necessitate putting the people first.

More state buildings are smoke-free now than before.  The health dangers of secondhand smoke, the expense of maintenance, the threat of fire, the question of access, and the possibility of lawsuits and workers’ compensation suits have contributed to this.

The state Capitol and General Assembly Building, with its staff, citizen visits, and tourists should be buildings where smoking is not permitted, in order to save lives, save money, and prevent law suits.


Anne Morrow Donley
President, and co-founder, Virginia Group to Alleviate Smoking in Public, Inc.
Copies to:  The Honorable Mark Warner, Governor of Virginia;
The Honorable Timothy Kaine, Lt. Governor of Virginia;
The Honorable Jerry Kilgore, Attorney General of Virginia

[Virginia GASP]  Added 13 November 2002