RICHMOND, Va. – Virginians may have to put out their cigarettes before entering an outdoor performance because of a bill that emerged from the state Senate on a tiebreaker vote Tuesday.
Senate Bill 938 would allow local governments to designate nonsmoking areas in an outdoor amphitheater or concert venue. It cleared the Senate on the last day bills could be approved in the chamber where they originated.
The bill, proposed by Sen. John Edwards, D-Roanoke, met opposition and split the Senate, 20-20. Sen. Emmett Hanger, a Republican from Augusta County, joined the 19 Democrats in voting for the legislation. The other 20 Republican senators voted against it.
Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, a physician, then cast the deciding vote to pass the bill.
Edwards said he introduced the legislation on behalf of Roanoke city officials who received complaints from parents about people smoking near children in Roanoke’s outdoor amphitheater, Elmwood Park.
The bill originally would have applied to any outdoor public area, including parks and greenways. But the Senate Local Government Committee amended it last week to restrict its reach to outdoor amphitheaters or venues owned by local governments.
Sen. John Cosgrove, R-Chesapeake, spoke against the bill, saying it would open the door for more anti-smoking laws.
“It’s just going to have a rolling effect if we allow this to happen,” Cosgrove said.
Any person violating the proposed law would be subject to a civil penalty of up to $25. It would go into the Virginia Health Care Fund, which assists the state’s uninsured and medically underserved residents.
“The American Lung Association in Virginia is pleased that the Senate has voted to take the first step in protecting the public’s health from tobacco smoke,” said Deborah P. Brown, president and CEO of the American Lung Association of the Mid-Atlantic.
According to State of Tobacco Control, a report issued by the association, $3.1 billion is spent annually on health care costs associated with tobacco use in Virginia.
Edwards’ legislation does not apply to vapes or electronic cigarettes. The Code of Virginia defines “smoke” and “smoking” by “carrying or holding of any lighted pipe, cigar, or cigarette of any kind, or any other lighted smoking equipment.”
The bill will now be considered by the House of Delegates.