Washington, D.C. — U.S. Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) introduced 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 have made countless sacrifices serving our country, and we must do all that we can to ensure that they receive the quality health care they have earned,” said Senator Collins. “The focus of VA hospitals should be promoting the health and wellbeing of the veterans they care for. By making VA facilities across the country entirely smoke-free, this bipartisan bill would further protect the health of veterans who rely on the VA for care.”
“The majority of veterans treated by the VA health care system do not smoke. We shouldn’t expose them to secondhand smoke when they are attending a doctor’s appointment,” said Senator Durbin. “I care deeply about the health and well-being of our veterans, and this bill will help save lives. I’m leading this bipartisan, bicameral effort to protect veterans from the deadly consequences of tobacco use and secondhand smoke.”
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. Consequently, 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 are difficult to maintain and cost the VA more than $1.2 million annually.
Per VA statistics, only 20 percent of veterans enrolled in the VA health care system are smokers. In 2019, the VA rightly determined that continuing to provide smoking 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.
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.
Along with Senators Durbin and Collins, the bill is cosponsored by 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), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and Tim Kaine (D-VA).
Companion legislation was introduced in the House by Reps. Lauren Underwood (D-IL-14) and Brad Wenstrup, D.P.M. (R-OH-02)