Bill would ban smoking at federal buildings

A California Democrat wants to ban smoking inside and outside all federal buildings across the country, reigniting a years-long attempt to ban smokers from lighting up on, near and in sight of federal property.

The bill, introduced late last week by Rep. Susan A. Davis, would ban smoking in and 25 feet around all properties owned or leased by the federal government. Smoking areas — located inside or just outside some federal properties — also would be shuttered.

“Exposure to secondhand smoke is a serious health issue that drives up health care costs for all of us,” Davis said in a statement announcing her bill. “Federal workers should be able to work in a healthy, smoke-free environment.”

If passed, Davis’s bill would apply only to executive branch properties and not congressional office buildings, meaning smokers, including House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and other lawmakers, could still use the balcony off the Speaker’s Lobby and other Capitol Hill locales to light up.

Each federal agency head would be left to enforce the new law, according to Davis's office. The law would not apply at the White House, whose primary resident, President Obama, was recently declared “tobacco free” by his doctors.

Efforts to ban smoking at federal buildings have a long, complex history. In 1997, President Bill Clinton banned smoking in most federal workplaces with an executive order that permitted federal buildings to establish smoking rooms.

At the end of George W. Bush’s administration, the General Services Administration published a new policy banning smokers from lighting up in the courtyards of federal buildings or within 25 feet of doorways or air ducts. In changing the policy, the GSA cited studies that show secondhand smoke is harmful to co-workers or anyone else exposed to it and laws in dozens of states that ban smoking at state government and private office buildings.

Notably, federal union leaders said the regulation might create issues for workers addicted to smoking.

“The reality is that there are employees who will continue to smoke,” Colleen M. Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, told The Washington Post in late 2008 when the GSA announced the policy change. “It is important that they have a place to go that is away from other employees and safe for them as well.”

The NTEU did not return requests for comment on the new bill.

Davis is not the first lawmaker to try to snuff out smoking: Rep. Eliot L. Engel (D-N.Y.) introduced bills in 2008 and 2009 that would have made the GSA’s change in policy a federal law. Both attempts failed.

Ed O’Keefe is covering the 2016 presidential campaign, with a focus on Jeb Bush and other Republican candidates. He's covered presidential and congressional politics since 2008. Off the trail, he's covered Capitol Hill, federal agencies and the federal workforce, and spent a brief time covering the war in Iraq.

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