By Steve Vogel and Joe Davidson
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, December 31, 2008
Government workers at federal buildings who want a cigarette break will have to take a stroll before they light up, according to a new federal policy.
A regulation published last week in the Federal Register by the General Services Administration prohibits smoking in the courtyards of federal buildings, or within 25 feet of doorways and air intake ducts. It also bans designated smoking rooms in federal buildings. The policy is to be implemented within six months.
The regulation replaces an executive order signed by President Bill Clinton in 1997 that prohibited smoking in federal buildings but allowed smoking in designated rooms or outdoor areas. Anti-smoking advocates viewed the exceptions as significant loopholes that exposed co-workers and passersby to secondhand smoke, and they welcomed the new regulation.
"We see this as a major victory," said Heather Grzelka, director of media relations at the American Lung Association. "This is going to go a long way to protecting workers from exposure to secondhand smoke."
But Colleen M. Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, said the new regulation "fails to recognize" that smoking is a disabling addiction for some employees.
"While we will continue to seek ways to assist employees in quitting smoking, the reality is that there are employees who will continue to smoke," Kelley, whose organization represents about 150,000 people, said in a statement. "It is important that they have a place to go that is away from other employees and safe for them as well."
James A. Williams, acting administrator of the GSA, made the decision based on the recommendations of the Federal Management Regulation Evaluation Review Panel, according to an agency spokeswoman.
The GSA regulation cites studies that show that secondhand smoke is harmful to co-workers or anyone else exposed to it. The agency also noted that 26 states have banned smoking in all state government buildings, and that 19 states have banned smoking in all private work places.
"There is no safe exposure to secondhand smoke," Grzelka said. "Even if you don't enter the smoking room, you're still affected, because there's no way to clean that air."
The Washington Post's Federal Diary column reported this month on the efforts of David Galosky, an electrical engineer for the Federal Communications Commission, to close a smoking room at an FCC building in Columbia. Galosky, whose father died of emphysema, objected to the secondhand smoke from the room.
Some smoking rooms in federal buildings have been negotiated by employee unions, which retain the right to bargain with agencies over the implementation of the policy.
Kelley said NTEU might seek to "establish smoking areas that are away from other employees or get employees time to leave the property to smoke." The union might also request that agencies sponsor programs to help employees quit smoking, she said.
The new policy does not apply to federal buildings in which people are "voluntarily or involuntarily residing," such as prisons, according to the language in the Federal Register.
The policy also allows for "instances where an agency head establishes limited and narrow exceptions that are necessary to accomplish agency missions."
Grzelka said the American Lung Association is concerned that the language might allow smokers to continue to establish beachheads in federal buildings.