Meehan, Platts Push Limit on Smoking Options

Posted June 4, 2004 at 5:14pm

Under a proposal put forth by Reps. Marty Meehan (D-Mass.) and Todd Platts (R-Pa.), the handful of refuges for smokers on the Capitol’s House side — including the Speaker’s Lobby — could soon disappear.

The lawmakers, who co-chair the Congressional Task Force on Tobacco and Health, are seeking to ban smoking in all “public and common areas” in the House office space, including the Speaker’s Lobby and designated smoking sites in the Rayburn and Ford cafeterias.

Such a ban would not likely affect Members’ personal offices, however, where lawmakers now set policies on an individual basis.

“We believe that this ban will be an immediate improvement in the health of both smokers and non-smokers on the Hill,” Meehan said in a statement Friday. “We sincerely hope that this ban will serve as an incentive to help smokers quit. At the very least it will help protect everyone from the dangers of second-hand smoke.”

In a June 3 letter to Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), who chairs the House Office Building Commission, Meehan and Platts cited a recent medical study on workplace smoking.

“A study in this month’s British Journal of Medicine showed that when the city of Helena, Montana, banned workplace smoking, significantly fewer people were admitted to the hospital with heart attacks,” the lawmakers wrote. “When the ban was rescinded, the number of heart attacks returned to their prior levels.”

The letter, also signed by Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.), Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), Jim Moran (D-Va.), Diane Watson (D-Calif.), Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), continued: “In the face of this evidence, it is impossible to defend the House of Representatives’ policy of permitting smoking indoors.”

It could prove difficult, however, to ban smoking in the Speaker’s Lobby, where numerous lawmakers use the area to smoke cigarettes or cigars while the House is in session.

The House Office Building Commission, which sets policy for that chamber’s facilities, would have to approve any ban on smoking. It remained unclear Friday whether Hastert, who was traveling to attend ceremonies marking the 60th anniversary of the Allied invasion of Normandy, had seen the letter.