July 12, 2019

Kaine Introduces Bipartisan 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 joined Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Susan Collins (R-ME) to introduce bipartisan 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. 

“Veterans rely on the VA for crucial care, and it’s important that it be a healthy, smoke-free environment,” said Kaine. “I’m proud this bill offers bipartisan support to protect patients at the VA  from the harmful effects of secondhand smoke and tobacco use.”

Kaine has a long track record of promoting public health and battling tobacco use. As Governor of Virginia, Kaine signed a bill into law to ban smoking in bars and restaurants in the Commonwealth, as well as an executive order to ban smoking in state buildings and vehicles. In May, Kaine introduced the Tobacco-Free Youth Act with Senate Majority Leader McConnell to raise the nationwide minimum age to buy all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, from 18 to 21. The bill recently passed the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee as part of the Lower Health Care Costs Act of 2019.

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 there are 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 are difficult to maintain and cost the VA more than $1.2 million annually.  The VA recently determined that continuing to provide smoke areas on VHA property was not sustainable, and issued VHA Directive 1085 to institute a smoke-free policy by October 1, 2019.  However, Congressional action is still necessary to repeal the 1992 law and codify VA efforts.

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

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

The legislation is supported by the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, the American Lung Association, the American Heart Association, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Society of Thoracic Surgeons, and more than two dozen additional medical and public health organizations.