Goodbye, federal puffing? Smoking ban eyed for U.S. agencies


WASHINGTON -- If an Ohio congressman has his way, smokers in federal buildings in Maryland and across the country would be forced to step outside for a few furtive puffs or go cold turkey.

Many federal facilities have already banished smokers to designated areas. But Democratic Rep. James A. Traficant has proposed legislation that would ban smoking entirely, eliminating the hazy lounges, corridors and stairwells where many cigarette users now indulge.

Energized by a recent EPA report that classified second-hand smoke as a human carcinogen, Mr. Traficant contends that a complete ban is the only way to protect millions of nonsmokers in federal offices.

"The problem that I, and most health professionals, have with allowing smoking in public buildings is that in most federal buildings indoor air is recirculated throughout the building," he says. Providing designated areas, he explains, "does nothing to protect nonsmoking federal workers and the public from the deadly health hazards posed" by cigarette fumes.

But the bill faces an uphill battle. The tobacco lobby, one of the strongest forces on Capitol Hill, is already mobilizing opposition in Congress. And the legislation also lacks the support of the House leadership, according to staffers familiar with the issue.

Current federal policy is a patchwork of regulations. Although the General Services Administration has issued guidelines calling for smoking to be permitted only in designated areas, enforcement is up to individual agencies.

Maryland's Fort Meade illustrates how sharply rules on smoking can vary, even from building to building.

At some sites, smoking is permitted, in designated areas and in private offices. In other buildings -- and at the nearby National Security Agency -- smoking is forbidden.

"The current policy is still under review," says Don McClow, a spokesman at Fort Meade. "Officials here are talking to union representatives. There is a lot of talking to be done."

The situation is even more confused at Baltimore's federal courthouse, where the smoking policy changes between floors.

For clerks on the fourth floor, there is "a small smoky lounge," one clerk says. But it's up to judges to decide whether to allow smoking in their chambers.

"I smoke in chambers," says the secretary to one judge, who insists on anonymity. "I haven't had any complaints.

At other federal buildings in Maryland, including the Social Security Administration and the Health Care Financing Administration in Woodlawn, there is a complete ban.

Al Levy remembers when the Social Security Administration banned smoking in 1988.

"A lot of people were happy," says Mr. Levy, executive vice president of Local 1923 of the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents workers at SSA, HCFA. "Obviously, the smokers weren't.

To protect smokers, the union negotiated with SSA officials "so workers are allowed to go outside and take smoking breaks without getting flak from their supervisors."

Some were still angry and threatened to drop out of the union, he says. "Either they cooled down on their own or they saw the light."

Before the ban went into effect, he says, the designated smoking areas "were like little gas chambers. The agency didn't ventilate them and there were a lot of problems. The easiest thing was just to ban it."


Social Security Administration -- Total ban.

Health Care Financing Administration -- Total ban.

Federal courthouse in Baltimore -- Policies vary; designated area in the clerk's office, smoking permitted by some judges in chambers.

Fort Meade -- Smoking policy varies between buildings.

Andrews Air Force Base -- Banned in most locations.

Federal Aviation Administration's BWI air traffic control tower -- Smoking permitted in designated areas.

Goddard Space Flight Research Center -- Total ban.

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