Bulletin: Finally, Legal Action Against Cigarette Butts
I'm in Richmond watching the Virginia General Assembly at work and this simply can't wait for tomorrow's newspaper: Not five minutes ago, the House of Delegates voted to declare cigarette butts to be litter. The bill adds cigarette butts to the list of items that you may not toss from your vehicle as you motor along the state's roads.
Butts now join "companion animals" in the list of items that you ought not dump from your car.
While they were at it, the House also tripled the punishment violators face, from a fine of $250 to $750.
The bill is sponsored by Delegate William Fralin, a Republican from Roanoke. (More on today's action on butts on the Post's Richmond Report.)
Seriously, folks, Virginia's love affair with tobacco is fading--maybe not as quickly as in the rest of the country, but nonetheless it is going.
Later this week, the state Senate will consider a bill that would give counties the right to institute smoking bans in restaurants if they so choose--a right that local governments in Maryland and many other states have used in recent years. The vote in Richmond is likely to be tight, but the bill may well pass; if it gets past the House--a far less likely prospect--places such as Arlington, Alexandria and perhaps even Fairfax might move to join the District and Montgomery and Prince George's counties in making restaurants smoke-free. Only that parity would save D.C. bars and eateries from taking a big hit when the District's ban on smoking takes effect next year.
The debate in Virginia is remarkably like those we witnessed in D.C. and Maryland in recent months. The anti-smoking side has lots of big K Street lobbyists on board, with fancy surveys and reports galore.
The difference here, of course, is that this is central headquarters for a good chunk of the tobacco industry, yet my colleague in the Post's Richmond bureau, Roz Helderman, reports that at the committee hearing on this year's Senate bill, the tobacco lobbyists did not speak against letting counties impose their own smoking bans. And, equally astonishing, the restaurant association's representatives told senators that while they do oppose a patchwork solution that lets each county make its own smoking rules, they would not oppose a statewide ban on smoking in restaurants. Even if that is just a tactical position--and a fairly safe one, considering that the Virginia legislature is not about to ban smoking statewide--it is a remarkable change in attitude.
Within a few years, you could easily see an EZPass swath of states with smoking bans along the East Coast from Virginia to Maine. That is an enormous social change.
By Marc Fisher |
February 6, 2006; 1:51 PM ET
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