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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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People are throwing "companion animals" out their car windows? Is Virginia a weird state or what?

Posted by: CT | February 6, 2006 3:31 PM

I LOVE LOVE LOVE the cigarette butts= litter law, bc they do litter the sides of roads, but also bc it means I won't have that fear -- maybe it's not a cigarette this time -- every time I see a projectile hurtling towards my windshield from the car in front of me.

I do wonder whether Richmond would continue to be the HQ for all those tobacco companies if it changes its tune, however. RJR came back only bc NYC passed the ban (or was it more complicated than that?), could they just pull stakes and move down to Charlotte or elsewhere next?

Posted by: OD | February 6, 2006 3:56 PM

Making cigarette butts a designated, honest-to-goodness piece of litter would be amazing! It really irks me that people believe they aren't doing anything wrong as they flick butts out of a car window or drop them on the sidewalk/ into a park/ onto a yard while they stroll. The butts contain all sorts of things that shouldn't be introduced into any setting and are harmful. They create an ugly and dangerous mess- even if they are fully extinguished beforehand. Don't tell me you throw them out of the car so as to not have the smell- you choose to smoke in your car, so use the ashtray. If you're walking and there is no receptacle in your path, extinguish and drop out the cherry. Put the butt into the baggie your carry for just such a purpose (aka. like dog owners do for dog poop- but all you need is a snack-zip zipper bag) and dispose of it when you get home.

Posted by: JA | February 6, 2006 3:59 PM

Marc - Get over the idea of everyone crossing the river to VA for the bar and restaurant scene. Were you one of the 5 people who started to eat/drink in Jersey City after Manhattan went smoke-free? People will continue to hang out in DC because it is still the city, and smokers will crowd around the doors outside, while people indoors can breath and not smell like stake smoke for weeks on end. Starting to me how you can be so progressive on most things yet really thick-headed on this one particular issue.

Posted by: SmokingSux | February 6, 2006 4:18 PM

I thought Altria was actually headquartered in NYC and Phillip Morris had primarily manufacturing operations located in Richmond?

Posted by: SB 648 | February 6, 2006 4:34 PM

maybe I meant Phillip Morris. some company moved back down to Richmond two years ago, right after NYC passed their smoking ban. it was a big deal to the city. I was wondering how tenuous that connection is, that they might take their money and jobs and leave again if the state imposed a smoking ban.

Posted by: OD | February 6, 2006 5:00 PM

The actual research I've seen shows absolutely no difference when a smoking ban is passed. If you ask the restaurant owners, they rant and rail against it, but when you look at their books, there's absolutely no difference. For me, there's a huge difference: I can breathe. As a lifetime allergy sufferer, I can tell you that my flying life got unbelievably better when they banned smoking on airplanes. I no longer arrive at my destination with the sinus headache I used to get just because someone 2 rows in front of me couldn't wait two hours to foul my air with his addiction. In Prince George's County restaurants, now I can use my nose to breathe--which I believe is its intended purpose, no?

Posted by: JWS | February 6, 2006 5:27 PM

I don't know a single DC person planning to go to Virginia just so they can smoke in
bars and restaurants. The DC and Virginia scenes are vastly different. One rarely appeals to the other.

If anything, the DC scene will strengthen, as a lot of people will go to DC just for the smoke-free environment.

And, at long last, I don't have to breathe filthy air just because I dare to want to go out and socialize in public.

Posted by: Hillman | February 6, 2006 7:20 PM

The DC smoking ban is simply more of a culture of limiting individual rights. There are over 200 establishments in DC that are smoke-free, and I'm sure many more where smoking sections are separated so as not to bother non-smokers. Why not let capitalism work; as demand increases for smoke-free restaurants and bars, they will open. If you want to encourage it, offer tax breaks for businesses who go smoke free. But don't buy into the moral crusaders whose true goals are to limit actions they find "sinful."

Posted by: It's about rights | February 8, 2006 10:16 AM

hello, just cant resist to comment on the one who said" moral crusaders whose true goals are to limit actions they find 'sinful'"...i don't impose my morals on others but i also do not choose to shorten the life or pleasures there of of mankind by smoking either. Cig.smoke is disgusting at least and i (a non smoker) do not choose to pollute the air of others who may have respiratory problems, such as asthma. I have asthma, and have spent numerous nights in an emergency dept. starring death in the face. Have you ever been intubated and placed on a breathing machine because you breathed in some sorry asses second hand cig.smoke and it caused your airway to shut to the point of near death? well when this happens to you you'll be glad some "moral anti sinner" fought to protect your clean air. In the mean time, keep your "BUTTS" at home.

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