D.C. may be smoke-free, but Congress gets to set its own rules. Unfortunately for nicotine-craving lawmakers (25% of Congress), the Democrats’ victory may lead to change for more than Iraq and the minimum wage—Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi is considering a ban on smoking in the U.S. Capitol.
When the District goes smoke-free Jan. 2, at least one nicotine haven will remain: the U.S. Capitol. Lawmakers, several of whom enjoy a good cigar, have exempted themselves from the city’s smoking ban, not to mention rules that forbid lighting up in federal buildings across the country.
But winds of change may be blowing on the Hill.
Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the Democrat from smoke-free California and the next speaker of the House, is thinking of banishing tobacco from the most popular smoking spot in the building: the Speaker’s Lobby outside the House chamber. “I’m not an advocate of smoking,” Pelosi said [Thursday], adding that she hadn’t yet decided on a ban. “I think it’s dangerous to your health.”
Smoking is permitted in lawmakers’ offices, in two cafeterias in the House and Senate buildings and in an unmarked, cramped room in the basement of the U.S. Capitol.
But the Speaker’s Lobby, the ornate space dotted with fireplaces and chandeliers, is the real smoke-filled room, the biggest and most visible space where smokers gather. The lobby, where lawmakers relax between votes and debates, is blue with smoke most days. You can smell it from the approaching hallways. Cigarette smokers claim the leather wing chairs during the day, filling the ashtrays with butts. At night, the cigar smokers take over. A smoky film clings to an oversize mirror.