Virginia - smoking ban passes for most bars and restaurants..

February 21, 2009 - In a big win for Gov. Tim Kaine and a blow to the Virginia tobacco industry, the General Assembly on Thursday passed historic legislation that, come December 2009, will outlaw lighting up inside eateries unless they have an enclosed smoking room with independent air ventilation. The bill allows smoking in open-air outdoor patios and at private clubs. Owners and diners who violate the ban will face a $25 fine.

Under the legislation, restaurant workers cannot be required to work in smoking rooms against their will.

Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, who unsuccessfully pushed for smoking bans in each of the last two years, said he expects to sign the bill next month in the "quickest drying ink I can find." Virginia joins D.C. (in 2006) and Maryland (in 2007) with restrictions on smoking in most public places.

The approval came after the Democratic governor Tim Kaine worked out a compromise with Republican House Speaker William J. Howell of Stafford.

After two weeks of intense debate, the legislation passed without discussion on votes of 27-13 in the Senate and 60-39 in the House. Many lawmakers said there was an overwhelming public support for the ban.

The bill was a compromise between health advocates who wanted an unconditional restaurant smoking ban and conservatives who held that restaurant owners should be allowed to decide whether it is in their business interests to ban smoking.

Anti-smoking groups praised the compromise, noting that most restaurant owners already bar smoking and, among those that don't, many will not want to pay to enclose and ventilate a room for puffing. More than 90 percent of Virginians -- nearly 7 million people -- live in localities in which the majority of restaurants are smoke-free, David Harden a Longwood University geographer has found by Karin Kapsidelis, Richmond
Times-Dispatch, 2/18/2009.

The ban was strongly opposed by Philip Morris USA, the nation's largest cigarette producer, and its corporate parent, Altria. Both corporations are headquartered in metropolitan Richmond. Bill Phelps, a spokesman for Altria, said the legislation is "effectively a complete ban on smoking."

Virginia will join 23 states that outlaw smoking in restaurants. Public health advocates in North Carolina - the heart of tobacco country - vowed to pass a statewide ban this legislative session on smoking in restaurants and bars, an effort that failed by a slender margin two years ago. The bill's fate may hinge on the N.C. Restaurant & Lodging Association. (Smoking ban proponents gear up
Lawmakers will try to ban smoking in restaurants and bars. Tobacco companies plan to fight the bill
, Mark Johnson - Staff Writer, The News & Observer, 1/30/2009) The N.C. Restaurant and Lodging Association will not oppose -- and could actively support -- a ban on smoking in restaurants and workplaces, The News & Observer, 2/16/2009..

Recently, Virginia lawmakers refused to consider raising taxes on tobacco.

Related news briefs: Possible Smoking Ban Law in Virginia..; Shame on Virginia...

Reference: Virginia passes smoking ban compromise, Washington Business Journal. 2/19/2009; Restaurant smoking ban OK'd, awaits Kaine's signature by Julian Walker and Warren Fiske, The Virginian-Pilot, 2/20/2009.