Virginia’s ban on smoking in restaurants and public buildings just passed the three-year mark, and a Democratic lawmaker is now looking to expand the ban to some cars.
Del. Joe Morrissey, D-Highland Springs, filed a bill for the General Assembly session next month that would prohibit smoking in any vehicle with a passenger under the age of 13. The violation would carry a $100 fine.
“Children are captives in a car,” Morrissey said. “They’re not free to leave a car that’s smoke-filled, and we have other legislation that protects children in automobiles.”
Extending the smoking prohibition to cars with children in them could be a tough sell in the GOP-controlled House, where many Republicans were criticized in 2009 for backing a statewide smoking ban that conservatives saw as an infringement on private businesses, like restaurants. Private clubs, prisons and tobacco stores are exempt from the law.
“I’m not a smoker. I don’t like being around it. But I just don’t think it’s the state’s place to ban the use of a legal product on your own property,” said Del. Mark Cole, R-Fredericksburg.
The smoking ban, Democratic Gov. Tim Kaine’s signature legislative achievement in office, marked its three-year anniversary on Dec. 1 and there’s no indication it will be lifted anytime soon.
Cole questioned whether Morrissey’s bill is an indication that Democrats will eventually try to expand the smoking ban’s reach. Some states have gone much further than Virginia in banning smoking, including prohibiting the use of tobacco products in public parks.
“That’s the way liberals are. They try to micromanage people’s lives,” Cole said. “We can’t afford a big, intrusive government to enforce all these things.”
Morrissey also introduce legislation that would fine anyone caught throwing a cigarette butt on the street $100 and allow a judge to require the smoker to do community service.
Money collected from the fines would go to the Litter Control and Recycling Fund.
“One of my and many others’ pet peeves are when we drive along and see someone flick a cigarette out of their car,” Morrissey said. “It’s like they’re saying, ‘I want to keep my car clean but I don’t care about the environment.’ ”
Including cigarettes as litter would go a long way toward helping restore the Chesapeake Bay, Morrissey said. The burned-out butts that make their way into the watershed each year could fill 12 Olympic-size swimming pools, he said.
“I don’t think people are aware of the volume of cigarette butts that are put out into the environment,” Morrissey said.