Smoking banned in the speaker's lobby in House

Chamber's smokers must go outside

January 11, 2007|By Richard Simon | Richard Simon,Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- Throughout the U.S. Capitol are reminders of the days when tobacco was king.

Tobacco leaf designs decorate walls. Brass spittoons adorn the Senate chamber. A portrait of a former House speaker shows him clutching a cigar.

And until yesterday, ashtrays could be found just steps outside the House chamber.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, snuffed out smoking yesterday in the speaker's lobby, an ornate room that had become one of Washington's most famous smoke-filled rooms. It is a place where lawmakers for decades have puffed away between votes.

No more, Pelosi declared.

"The days of smoke-filled rooms in the United States Capitol are over," Pelosi said. "Medical science has unquestionably established the dangerous effects of secondhand smoke, including an increased risk of cancer and respiratory diseases. I am a firm believer that Congress should lead by example."

Hours after the decree, the ashtrays were gone and nary a whiff of smoke sullied the air. Smokers, who are restricted from lighting up in many places, seemed resigned.

"That's fine," said House Republican Leader John A. Boehner, a chain-smoker from Ohio who along with other smokers will be forced to light up on an outdoor balcony off the speaker's lobby.

Smoking was banned on the House floor in 1871 and in the Senate chamber in 1914. The Senate has no equivalent to the House speaker's lobby, so no smoking was permitted anywhere on the Senate side of the Capitol.

Capitol Hill smokers have seen their habitat shrink for more than a decade. In 1993, then-Speaker Thomas S. Foley, a Washington Democrat, banned smoking in hallways and other public areas. Last year, smoking was banned within 25 feet of the entrances to House office buildings.

However, all members are allowed to smoke in their offices.

The scent of California GOP Rep. David Dreier's cigars has filled the third floor of the Capitol, especially during visits from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. But Dreier took Pelosi's decision in stride.

"I like to have an occasional cigar in my office," Dreier said, but "she's the speaker of the House, she can make these kinds of decisions. ... No one wants to encourage smoking."

The policy comes about a week after new smoking restrictions went into effect in the District of Columbia, making virtually every workplace in the city smoke free - except those controlled by Congress.

John Kirkwood, president and chief executive of the American Lung Association, praised Pelosi's decision, saying it demonstrates to the American people that "Congress is playing by the same set of rules as everyone else."

Richard Simon writes for the Los Angeles Times. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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