Carper Introduces Bipartisan, Bicameral Bill to Make the VA Smoke-Free

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Senator Tom Carper (D-Del.) joined Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), and Susan Collins (R-ME), along with U.S. Representatives Brad Wenstrup, D.P.M. (R-Ohio-02) and Kathleen Rice (D-N.Y.-04), to introduce 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.

“There are few duties more sacred to me than caring for those who have served our country,” said Senator Carper. “That includes our sacred obligation to provide high-quality health care to every veteran. This bipartisan bill to keep the VA tobacco free will help us do just that. Tobacco is one of the most harmful products sold legally in the United States, in terms of both health care dollars and lives lost. That’s why I’m proud to join my colleagues in supporting this common sense legislation to improve the level of care our veterans receive by keeping the VA smoke-free.”

“Our medical centers should be promoting health and well-being for both staff and Veterans,”said Wilmington VAMC Director Vince Kane. “Other government facilities are smoke free, and our health care facilities should not be an exception. We should be leading the way in health promotion.”

“We have a responsibility as a nation to protect the health of our veterans, and ensuring that the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) system is smoke-free is an essential step in supporting veterans’ long-term health. This legislation provides support for the VHA’s plan to make all of its facilities smoke-free by Oct. 1, and it ensures current and future generations of veterans are protected from the risks of secondhand smoke when they seek care at a VHA facility. We are grateful to Representatives Wenstrup and Rice and Senators Durbin and Collins for their leadership on this important issue,” said Mark Schoeberl, Executive Vice President of Advocacy for the American Heart Association.

“The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network commends Representatives Wenstrup and Rice and Senators Durbin and Collins for introducing legislation that would allow our nation’s veterans to breathe smoke-free air at health facilities managed by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Eliminating designating smoking areas in DVA-managed facilities will ensure thousands of veterans avoid exposure to the dangers of secondhand smoke while seeking the care they need. The legislation also guarantees physicians, nurses, volunteers and visitors would also be working in, or visiting, a smoke-free environment.”

“Everyone deserves to be protected from the dangers of secondhand smoke, but especially our veterans and the doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals who treat them,” said Harold P. Wimmer, National President and CEO of the American Lung Association.  “Making Veterans’ Health Administrations tobacco free will improve our veterans’ health and is long overdue.  The American Lung Association looks forward to working with Representatives Wenstrup and Rice and Senators Durbin and Collins to ensure this legislation becomes law.”

“The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids strongly supports the bipartisan legislation introduced by Reps. Wenstrup and Rice and Sens. Durbin and Collins to make VHA facilities smoke-free. This legislation rightly recognizes that veterans should not be subjected to harmful secondhand smoke in order to receive medical care. It gives the force of law to the VHA’s new directive making VHA facilities smoke-free and will help protect the health of current and future generations of veterans,” said Matthew L. Myers, President of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.    

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.

Joining the senators in cosponsoring the bill are U.S. Senators Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), and Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii).

The legislation is supported by 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.