Senate Yet to Limit Smoking

New Ban Not Enforced at Building Entrances

Posted June 11, 2012 at 6:40pm

Senate smokers who like to take cover from the rain or heat under the covered carriage entrance and the East Portico leading into the Senate wing of the Capitol will now have to brave the elements to get their nicotine fix.

That favored spot and others like it are verboten under new Senate regulations, approved by the Rules and Administration Committee just before the Memorial Day recess; smoking is now banned within 25 feet of all entrances to Senate office buildings and within all public indoor spaces under Senate jurisdiction.

“The new policy is in response to steady complaints from members of the Senate community (and visitors) about having to regularly contend with second-hand smoke when entering and exiting the Senate office buildings,” a Rules and Administration aide explained in an email.

In keeping with the Rules panel’s typically low-key approach, not much has changed yet in terms of smoking habits and enforcement. The news continues to trickle down to smokers and enforcers alike.

On a walk around the Senate side of the Capitol campus Monday, smokers were still standing well within 25 feet of various entrances to the Senate office buildings. When quizzed about the new rules, some said it was the first they were hearing about them; others said they knew about the change in policy but were waiting to see it enforced.

“I’ll move if they tell me to,” said a Senate employee smoking a cigarette by the Dirksen entrance facing Constitution Avenue Northeast.

Cigarette receptacles are still located near many Senate office building doors. Some staffers stood outside the Hart entrance on Second Street Northeast smoking in sight of Capitol Police officers standing just inside the door.

Deputy Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Martina Bradford said Capitol Police would strictly enforce the smoking regulations and that officials were mobilizing to spread the word “as quickly as possible.”

Bradford said plans are afoot to move the ash cans away from building entrances to send a signal to smokers to move back. More “No Smoking” signs are also on the way.

‘Set a National Example’

One Senate employee of 12 years sat at the edge of the East Portico on Monday morning, nursing a cigarette. She said she hadn’t heard anything about the new policy but was frustrated to hear there was another area of the Capitol where she wouldn’t be allowed to light up.

“I wish they’d just pick one spot and decide where they want us,” she said, adding that her preferred solution would be an indoor smoking lounge.

Designated smoking areas in the Hart and Dirksen buildings were shuttered in 2008 after Democratic Sens. Frank Lautenberg (N.J.), Tom Harkin (Iowa), Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Dick Durbin (Ill.) and Jack Reed (R.I.) lobbied then-Rules and Administration Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) to do so.

Lautenberg on Monday lauded the decision to expand the Senate’s smoking ban to office buildings’ exteriors.

“Creating a smoke-free perimeter will protect workers and visitors to the Senate office buildings,” Lautenberg said in a statement to Roll Call. “This has been an ongoing effort to … set a national example for a smoke-free workplace, and I am pleased the Rules Committee has taken this important step.”

The Senate is actually a few years behind the House in its efforts to limit smoking on Capitol Hill, thanks to guidelines put in place between 2006 and 2010.

During the Speakership of now-Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the House amended a June 2006 ban on smoking within 25 feet and within public areas of House office buildings and the House side of the Capitol to include closures of all House-sanctioned smoking lounges, as well as the end of the era of smoking in the Speaker’s Lobby.

The Pelosi-era regulations remain in place. But, as is the case with the Senate’s standing policy — unchanged by the new rules — House officials can set their own smoking policies within the confines of their office spaces.

It’s a privilege that some say has been enjoyed by Congress’ most famous smoker, Pelosi’s successor, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).