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Kaine, Durbin, Collins & Colleagues Introduce Bipartisan, Bicameral Bill to Make the VA Smoke-Free

WASHINGTON, D.C. —U.S. Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA), a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee and the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), joined Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Susan Collins (R-ME) in introducing bipartisan, bicameral legislation to prohibit smoking at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The legislation would repeal an antiquated 1992 law that requires the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) to furnish and maintain designated indoor or outdoor smoking areas. Supported by the VA, the bill would bring the Department in line with smoke-free policies across the federal government and in the private health care system. 

“Our veterans rely on the services of the VA to live long and healthy lives,” said Kaine. “I’m proud to help introduce this bipartisan bill to further protect veterans from the consequences of tobacco use, including exposure to harmful secondhand smoke while accessing vital VA services.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States—killing more than 480,000 people annually—and there is no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke. As such, the overwhelming majority of America’s private health care systems and facilities, most Department of Defense medical facilities, and all federal government buildings, are smoke-free. Yet until 2019, there were nearly 1,000 designated indoor or outdoor smoking spaces at VHA facilities across the country—at least one in every state. In addition to the health concerns, such spaces were difficult to maintain and cost the VA more than $1.2 million annually.  

According to the VA, only 20 percent of veterans enrolled in the VA health care system are smokers. In 2019, the VA rightly determined that continuing to provide smoke areas on VHA property was not sustainable, and issued VHA Directive 1085 to institute a smoke-free policy beginning October 1, 2019. However, Congressional action is still necessary to repeal the 1992 law and codify VA efforts. 

According to the Congressional Budget Office, this effort would not impact spending and would save the VA money in the long run. 

Kaine has long focused his efforts on protecting Virginians from the harmful effects of secondhand smoke and tobacco use. As Governor of Virginia, Kaine signed a bill into law to ban smoking in bars and restaurants in the Commonwealth, and an executive order to ban smoking in state buildings and vehicles. In 2019, Kaine pushed for the bipartisan Tobacco-Free Youth Act to raise the nationwide minimum age to buy all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, from 18 to 21. Provisions of this bill were included in the 2019 end of year government spending bill and became law. 

Along with Kaine, Durbin, and Collins, the bill is cosponsored by U.S. Senators Tom Carper (D-DE), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Patty Murray (D-WA), Jack Reed (D-RI), Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT). 

The House version of this bill is led by U.S. Representatives Brad Wenstrup, D.P.M. (R-OH-02) and Lauren Underwood (D-IL-14).

This legislation is supported by the VA and more than 50 public health organizations, including the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, the American Heart Association, the American Lung Association, and the American Cancer Society Action Network.