Hey, John, Got a Light?

It comes as no surprise that even though a new District smoking ban took effect in April, smokers who work in the Capitol are still puffing away.

By: Allison Stevens

To see how deeply rooted Con gress’s love of tobacco is, just look at the Capitol’s Corinthian columns festooned with marble tobacco leaves.

So it comes as no surprise that even though a new District smoking ban took effect in April, smokers who work in the Capitol are still puffing away. DC laws do not apply to the federal government. Most government offices were deemed smoke-free in 1997 by executive order, but smoke-filled rooms still exist in the Capitol complex.

Smoking is permitted in sections of some cafeterias in House and Senate office buildings; in a designated area of the Rayburn building; and in the Speaker’s Lobby—a long hall off the floor of the House. Individual lawmakers can set the smoking policy in their own offices.

This has some antismoking advocates fuming. “It just seems to be a matter of common de cency not to subject people who work at the Capitol and visitors to carcinogens,” says Hill crusader Henry Waxman, a Democrat from California.

More typical is the response of Democrat Jerrold Nadler, a nonsmoker from New York who doesn’t mind the smoke but objects to the smoking: “Nobody should be involuntarily subjected to that.”

Waxman and other critics now face an even tougher battle: House majority leader John Boehner made a name for himself as a close friend of tobacco in 1995, when he handed out checks from industry lobbyists on the House floor during a vote on tobacco-related legislation.

A chain-smoking Ohioan, Boehner regularly lights up in the Speaker’s Lobby, a hall that doubles as the congressional version of a corporate break room. Members often go there between votes to relax, talk shop, and, in some cases, bond over a smoke.

Boehner holds court in a sometimes hazy corner of the lobby that has come to be known as Smoker’s Alley—an area frequented by insiders, reporters, and fellow smokers such as Republicans Tom Latham of Iowa and Mike Simpson of Idaho.

But it’s not as if Republicans are the only tobacco aficionados. Democrats like Barney Frank of Massachusetts, Harold Ford of Tennessee, and Kendrick Meek of Florida have been spotted sucking stogies in the area of the hall where Democrats congregate.