Cigarettes extinguished in the Speaker's Lobby

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) yesterday banned smoking in the Speaker’s Lobby.

The ornately decorated vestibule off of the House floor had been one of the few remaining refuges on Capitol Hill for the dwindling band of smokers.

“The days of smoke-filled rooms in the United States Capitol are over,” Pelosi said in written statement Wednesday. “I am a firm believer that Congress should lead by example. Effective immediately, smoking will no longer be permitted in the Speaker’s Lobby.”

Pelosi said that the dangers of secondhand smoke put the “health of colleagues, staff, pages, reporters and others who pass through the Speaker’s Lobby” at risk every day.

The House Office Building Commission, made up of the Speaker, majority leader and minority leader, has jurisdiction over smoking in the Speaker’s Lobby. Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) has supported the ban. 

However, Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), known for puffing on Barclay cigarettes in the Speaker’s Lobby, did not have a comment on Pelosi’s decree.

Prohibition aside, Boehner told a group of reporters yesterday that he would continue to smoke. “It’s not going to affect me,” he said.

Members’ personal offices are also exempt from the ban. Each member sets his or her office smoking policy. In addition, members will not lose the right to take a drag on the outdoor balcony next to the Speaker’s Lobby.

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), who has long opposed smoking on Capitol Hill, lauded Pelosi’s decision.

“Speaker Pelosi has done the right thing by banning smoking in the Speaker’s Lobby,” Waxman said yesterday in an e-mail to The Hill. “It is the right public health policy, and sends a strong signal that everyone should be protected from secondhand smoke.”

Rep. Marty Meehan (D-Mass.), co-chairman of the Congressional Task Force on Tobacco and Health, applauded Pelosi’s decision to make the Speaker’s Lobby smoke-free.

“Members of Congress must lead by example,” said Meehan in a press release. “The next step should be to expand this ban to include the entire Capitol complex. No constituent, employee, or visitor should fear for his safety when entering any of the buildings surrounding the Capitol.”

In late June, the House Office Building Commission amended the House’s smoking policy to prohibit smoking in all areas except room B-219 Longworth and room B-112 Cannon, according to a “Dear Colleague” letter.

Smoking within 25 feet of public entrances and exits of the Capitol complex or the surrounding office buildings was also forbidden, the letter said.

Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.), who introduced an amendment last year to a House legislative branch appropriations bill that eliminated smoking in the Rayburn cafeteria and other public dining areas, commended Pelosi’s decision.

“Last week she drained the swamp, this week she’s fumigating the clubhouse. Speaker Pelosi’s House cleaning is off to a great start,” he said. 

At the start of this year, the District of Columbia followed the lead of several states and cities by banning smoking in public areas.

The American Lung Association (ALA) and the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids praised Pelosi for eradicating smoking in the Capitol.

“The decision to make the U.S. Capitol, the symbol of our nation’s democracy, smoke-free is both an important public-health victory and a symbolic decision,” said John Kirkwood, ALA president and CEO. “By making the Speaker’s Lobby smoke-free, Speaker Pelosi has ended the days of smoke-filled rooms.”

American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network President Daniel Smith was also quick to praise Pelosi’s decision: “We are pleased that those who frequent the Speaker’s Lobby will now be afforded the same protection from secondhand smoke that other District workers currently enjoy. Today’s decision will remove a major threat to the health of members, staffers and others who frequent the Speaker’s Lobby.”

Jackie Kucinich contributed to this report.