Pelosi snuffs a smoking haven

Times Staff Writer

Throughout the U.S. Capitol are reminders of the days when tobacco was king.

Tobacco-leaf designs decorate walls. Brass spittoons adorn the Senate chamber. A portrait of a former House speaker shows him clutching a cigar.

And until Wednesday, ashtrays could be found indoors just steps away from the House chamber.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) on Wednesday snuffed out smoking in the speaker’s lobby, previously one of Washington’s most famous smoke-filled rooms. It is an ornate place where lawmakers for decades have puffed away between votes.


No more, Pelosi declared.

“I am a firm believer that Congress should lead by example,” she said, citing the dangers of secondhand smoke.

Hours after the decree, the ashtrays were gone and nary a whiff of smoke sullied the air.

Smokers, already restricted from lighting up in many places, seemed resigned.

“That’s fine,” said House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), a smoker who along with others will now be forced to light up on an outdoor balcony off the speaker’s lobby.

“I’ll survive,” added Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (R-Mich.), another smoker.

Anti-smoking advocates took a deep breath of relief. “It’s just great,” said Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles).

Smoking was banned on the House floor in 1871 and in the Senate chamber in 1914. The Senate has no equivalent to the speaker’s lobby, so smoking was not permitted anywhere on the Senate side of the Capitol -- though Congress members are allowed to smoke in their offices.

The policy comes about a week after a smoking ban on bars and nightclubs went into effect in Washington, making virtually every workplace in the city smoke-free -- except those controlled by Congress.

John Kirkwood, president and chief executive of the American Lung Assn., praised Pelosi’s decision, saying it demonstrated to the nation that “Congress is playing by the same set of rules as everyone else.”