The bill pits employees' rights versus guests' luxuries. The new rule will bring hotel practices in line with a pre-existing state law that bans smoking in enclosed workplaces, but hotels may argue that the nature of their business exempt them from the rule.
Smoking rooms in the state’s hotels and motels would be eliminated under a bill endorsed by the Vermont House on Thursday.
The bill also would set other restrictions on tobacco, including banning its use within 25 feet of a state building, or to its property line, whichever is closer. The House gave preliminary approval on a voice vote after amending the bill to ban smoking in cars with young children.
The motivation for prohibiting smoking rooms at hotels was to bring them in line with pre-existing state law banning smoking in enclosed workplaces, Rep. Bill Frank, D-Underhill and lead sponsor of the bill, said in an interview.
“People have to work in those rooms, besides stay there — the maids, the bellhops, the maintenance people,” Frank said.
Other highlights of the bill: Tobacco use would be prohibited on public school grounds and child care facilities, except those operated out of homes. In that case, tobacco could not be used while children were in the homes, and the children’s parents would have to be told people smoked in the home during off hours.
But another amendment — to raise the minimum age to buy tobacco products in Vermont from 18 to 21 — was withdrawn after some legislative drama, and a promise from the House Democratic leadership that it would be taken up this year separately.
The fireworks came when Rep. George Till, D-Jericho, offered the amendment. He argued that about 10,000 Vermonters younger than 18 use tobacco and most get it from 18- to 20-year-olds who can buy it legally. He also said the bill’s other provisions amounted to “nibbling around the edges” of the tobacco addiction problem.
But other lawmakers argued Till’s amendment had not been vetted enough by the Human Services Committee that offered the underlying bill. Lawmakers caucused to hash that process question out, and some spoke of being torn between “respecting the committee process” and a desire to raise the smoking age.
“I hate tobacco. It has no redeeming social qualities,” said Rep. Tony Klein, D-East Montpelier. Klein, chairman of the Natural Resources and Energy Committee, said he valued the process of committees studying bills before they’re voted on by the full House, but, “I can’t have my vote say yes to tobacco.”
In the end, Till agreed to withdraw his amendment, after extracting a promise from Majority Leader Willem Hewitt and Human Services Committee Chairwoman Ann Pugh that the issue would be taken up in separate legislation this year.
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Photo credit: A 'No Smoking' sign on a door. Ken Hawkins / Flickr