WASHINGTON – Smoking is not a privilege extended equally to all federal employees. Just ask Carol Mcafee as she stands bundled against the cold outside the Health and Human Services Department Humphrey Building.
From the patch of sidewalk where she puffs on a cigarette, Mcafee looks up Independence Avenue to the Capitol, where lawmakers and their aides can smoke indoors.
“That’s not even close to fair,” Mcafee said. “If we’ve got to stand outside and freeze our butts off, they should do the same.”
Rep. James Traficant agrees. His bill would ban smoking from all federal buildings, even the Capitol. Members of Congress, federal judges and bureaucrats alike would be forced to go outside in order to indulge their nicotine habits.
“It is a logical common sense measure,” the Ohio Democrat told the House Transportation and Infrastructure public buildings subcommittee on Thursday. “It will force Congress to live by the same rules imposed on other federal workers.”
Currently, federal agencies place their own restrictions on smoking in their buildings, and by next summer all departments will have to abide by a presidential order that establishes uniform smoking limitations.
Under the executive order, agencies could set aside smoking areas inside their buildings. Traficant’s bill would not allow any smoking rooms, and would extend the ban to the legislative and judicial branches.
Traficant argued that the bill will save money by protecting non-smokers from smoking-related diseases.
The National Cancer Institute estimates that between 3,000 and 6,000 non-smoker lung cancer deaths annually are caused by second-hand tobacco smoke.
But a spokesman for the tobacco industry said that rather than outlawing smoking rooms, Congress ought to encourage federal employers to set aside spaces for workers to light up.
“It’s not only possible but preferable to have accommodations for smokers inside their buildings,” said Walker Merryman, vice president of the Tobacco Institute. “Simple fairness dictates smokers ought to be accommodated.”
Traficant said he hopes to get the measure to the House floor before Congress recesses in early November.