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Bill to Prohibit Job Discrimination Against Smokers Vetoed by Wilder

March 31, 1993|From Associated Press

RICHMOND, Va. — Gov. L. Douglas Wilder bucked the tobacco industry in one of the nation's top tobacco-producing states by vetoing a bill that would prohibit job discrimination against smokers.

"It is creating a special class of people that would be given protections that others were not entitled to," Wilder said Tuesday after vetoing the measure the day before.

The bill would have prohibited employers from making hiring and firing decisions based solely on whether a job applicant or employee smokes away from the workplace.

Wilder said he saw no reason to give smokers civil rights protections similar to those provided to people based on race, gender, religion or ethnic origin.

"Smokers who have acquired their habit are inflicting in some instances their own whims and fancies on others and it is deleterious to health," he said.

Virginia already has a law barring government employers from discriminating against smokers. At least 28 other states have smokers' rights laws, said Brennan Dawson, spokeswoman for the Tobacco Institute in Washington.

At the urging of the tobacco industry, the Virginia Legislature approved the smokers' rights bill after killing other measures that would have raised cigarette taxes.

Virginia, the fifth-largest tobacco-producing state, has the lowest state cigarette tax at 2.5 cents a pack.

Anthony Troy, a lobbyist for the Tobacco Institute, an industry group that lobbied for the bill, said the governor misunderstood the measure.

"It appears that the governor thought this would protect individual smoking on the job," Troy said.

He indicated his group is studying whether to ask lawmakers to override the veto.

Anti-smoking advocates praised Wilder for taking what they called a principled stand.

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