Town to consider smoking ban at bus stops

FRONT ROYAL – A push to ban smoking near school bus stops in town may not go farther than the corporate limits if it gets off the ground at all.

The Town Council plans to continue its discussion at its work session today on a proposal to restrict smoking at and around bus stops. Specifically, the proposed change to the town code would prohibit smoking within 50 feet of any public school bus stop. Some parents say second-hand cigarette smoke poses a risk to their children while they wait at bus stops. Such smoke can hurt children with already compromised lungs, parents have told the Town Council.

Town Attorney Doug Napier wrote up a proposed regulation that would, if adopted, prohibit smoking within 50 feet of school bus stops. Napier told the council that the town could pursue a restriction because smoking poses a risk to public health. Napier has since pointed out that the council must consider whether or not to pursue the matter since most people likely would stop smoking in the presence of children if asked.

Such a restriction, if imposed, only would apply to bus stops in the town limits. Warren County does not restrict smoking at school bus stops. County officials looked into the matter and chose not to pursue a smoking ban. County Attorney Dan Whitten stated in an email earlier this month that he researched the issue a few years ago but took the position then that the Virginia Indoor Clean Air Act pre-empts localities from regulating smoking that occurs in public places.

The county’s rules for the dog park as posted on its webpage include a prohibition on smoking in the off-leash area. Whitten stated that the county would remove such language from the list.

The county does post signs at its parks and recreational facilities encouraging visitors not to smoke within 100 feet of playgrounds, courts, ball fields and other related area.

“Although the County does not enforce the signs hopefully patrons of the parks will see the signs and stop smoking,” Whitten stated in the email.

Virginia code prohibits smoking in elevators, public school buses, the interior of any public school, hospital emergency rooms, local or district health departments, polling rooms, indoor service and cashier lines, public restrooms of health care facilities or in any building owned or leased by the state or the interior of a child day-care center not also used for residential purposes.

State code allows a locality to make it unlawful for any person to smoke in common areas of an educational facility such as classrooms, hallways, auditoriums and public meeting rooms. The same state code provision would make it unlawful for a person to smoke in school buses and public conveyances.

The state code also requires any person who owns, manages or controls any building or area in which an ordinance regulates smoking to post signs in those places displaying the restrictions.

A local regulation may allow the town to impose a maximum $25 penalty for smoking in restricted areas after being asked to stop. Police also may issue a summons to the person accused of violating the restriction.

Napier advised the council that he sent a request to every other local government attorney in Virginia asking for copies of any ordinances their localities might have that prohibits smoking at bus stops. Fairfax County prohibits smoking in county-owned bus shelters, according to its Assistant County Attorney David L. Honadle. Fairfax County based its restriction on the Virginia Indoor Clean Air Act. Honadle notes the county’s officials could not find a way to prohibit people from smoking close enough to the bus shelters that smoke drift into the structures.

Based on Honadle’s response, Napier said it’s up to the town and council as to if and how officials want to proceed.