Should 'a Room of One's Own' Apply to Smokers?

A federal employee lights up at a smoking shelter at the National Gallery of Art.
A federal employee lights up at a smoking shelter at the National Gallery of Art. (By Michael Dibari Jr. For The Washington Post)
By Joe Davidson
Tuesday, December 16, 2008

David Galosky watched his father die, painfully.

It was 22 years ago when emphysema killed Edward S. Galosky.

"It is a horrible death," said David, 56, an electrical engineer for the Federal Communications Commission. "My father screamed in the night every night. His lungs were so damaged that they could not function properly."

That explains Galosky's passion. He wants to close a smoking room at his workplace in Columbia. It's a place where nicotine junkies go to fill their lungs with poison.

What to do with smoking rooms in federal buildings is a decision that could fall to President-elect Barack Obama. The American Lung Association is circulating a petition calling on him to issue an executive order that would ban smoking in federal buildings.

Obama, who has tried to quit smoking, has promised not to smoke in the White House. So if there's going to be any smoke-filled room at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, it will be the figurative kind.

Smoking generally is prohibited in federal buildings under a 1997 executive order issued by President Bill Clinton. It says:

"It is the policy of the executive branch to establish a smoke-free environment for Federal employees and members of the public visiting or using Federal facilities. The smoking of tobacco products is thus prohibited in all interior space owned, rented, or leased by the executive branch of the Federal Government, and in any outdoor areas under executive branch control in front of air intake ducts."

But there's an exception to every rule.

The order says the broad policy does not apply to "designated smoking areas that are enclosed and exhausted directly to the outside and away from air intake ducts."

At the time, that probably seemed like a fair compromise between those who wanted to smoke and those who didn't. But now we know better.

The surgeon general has since reported that "separating smokers from nonsmokers, cleaning the air, and ventilating buildings cannot eliminate exposures of nonsmokers to secondhand smoke."

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