WASHINGTON -- Smokers may be one minority in Congress with even fewer rights than newly demoted Republicans. Now they're losing one of their last, cherished prerogatives -- a smoke break in the ornate Speaker's Lobby just off the House floor.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California, announced a ban yesterday, effective immediately.
"The days of smoke-filled rooms in the United States Capitol are over," Pelosi said. "Medical science has unquestionably established the dangerous effects of secondhand smoke, including an increased risk of cancer and respiratory diseases. I am a firm believer that Congress should lead by example."
Lawmakers will still be able to smoke in their offices. But they will no longer be able to mingle in the Speaker's Lobby in a haze of cigarette smoke during House votes, as they did Tuesday night while passing antiterrorism legislation.
The House minority leader, Representative John Boehner, Republican of Ohio, a heavy smoker and often at the center of a group of those smoking in a corner of the lobby, had little to say yesterday about Pelosi's move. Questioned at a news conference, Boehner described it as "fine," without elaborating.
Smoking is banned in most federal buildings, and the District of Columbia recently barred it in public areas, as has Pelosi's home district of San Francisco and a number of other cities.
"That's how life is now. They're banning smoking everywhere," said Representative Devin Nunes, a California Republican who is an occasional smoker.
The scent of Representative David Dreier's cigars has regularly filled the third floor of the Capitol, especially during visits from his state's governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger. But Dreier, a Republican, took the decision in stride.
"I like to have an occasional cigar in my office," Dreier said. But "she's the speaker of the House, she can make these kinds of decisions. . . . No one wants to encourage smoking."
The news had not filtered to everyone yesterday. There were still ashtrays in the Speaker's Lobby, and around noon a House official sat in an armchair and lit a cigarette. Informed about the hours-old ban he made his way to the balcony.
Capitol Hill smokers have been seeing their habitat shrink for more than a decade. In 1993, then-Speaker Thomas Foley , a Democrat from the state of Washington, banned smoking in hallways and other public areas. Last year, it was banned within 25 feet of the entrances to House office buildings.
Reminders of the days when tobacco was king remain throughout the Capitol.
Tobacco-leaf motifs are carved into the top of many of the Capitol's columns.
Cigarettes can be purchased in a House store, and are sold by the carton at a sundry shop underneath the Hart and Dirksen Senate office buildings where the phone is answered "Hart Tobacco shop."
There's no smoking in public areas near the Senate floor, and Senator Frank Lautenberg, Democrat of New Jersey, is trying to get rid of cigarette sales at the tobacco shop.