House Republicans introduced a bill Wednesday to immediately shut down the remaining indoor designated smoking areas at Veterans Health Administration facilities and also to eliminate outdoor designated smoking areas within five years.
"Exposure to secondhand smoke puts veteran patients at unnecessary risk," said Rep. Brad Wenstrup, an Ohio Republican and chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Health.
"This common-sense reform mitigates that risk by requiring VHA facilities to become 100 percent smoke-free within five years," said Wenstrup, an Army veteran and a medical doctor.
Currently, the VHA maintains 15 indoor smoking areas at its facilities, and 971 outdoor designated smoking areas, according to the sponsors of the proposed legislation.
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Some 20 percent of veterans enrolled at VHA are smokers and "many non-smoking veteran patients are at an increased risk for cardiovascular events associated with exposure to secondhand smoke," the sponsors said.
The Veterans Health Care Act of 1992 required the VA to offer smoking areas, though designated smoking areas at most other federal facilities were closed in 2009. Supporters of the 1992 law said that any restrictions on smoking would violate veterans' right to have access to a legal product.
In co-sponsoring the bill, Rep. Phil Roe, a Tennessee Republican and chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, said, "The health and well-being of our nation's heroes should always come first. This commonsense legislation would bring VA's smoking policies into the 21st century, ensuring veteran patients receive the same considerations as patients in the private-sector."
The VA currently offers programs to help veterans quit smoking and any veteran receiving health care through VA is eligible to use the "Quit VET quitline" at 1-855-QUIT-VET (1-855-784-8838) to speak with a tobacco cessation counselor.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.