'Laws like this are unnecessary and unenforceable . . . . This behavioral pattern of blaming smokers for problems in offices is nothing more than the nuisance factor. You don't put a fine on people who brought the flu to work." -- William Aylward, assistant to the president of The Tobacco Institute.
"We feel this is an unnecessary regulation on the workplace. We promote voluntary compliance because we believe most workers respect the rights of others." -- Tony Cooper, staff counsel, legislative/fiscal bureau, Washington Board of Trade.
"Legislation is not needed. It is as close to a non-issue as anything I can think of. It is another government interference in a person's life." -- Don Slatton, executive vice president of the Apartment and Office Building Association.
For a piece of writing that covers only slightly more than two pages, the Clean Air in the Indoor Workplace Act of 1985 has some powerful enemies. They may be powerful enough to sink the bill, or to see that it never gets out of the Public Works Committee of the D.C. City Council, where it has sat since being introduced on May 1.
The sponsor of the bill, council member Hilda Mason, acknowledges that her "child" faces an uphill fight. A similar bill of Mason's died in committee last year. This year, Mason could not even find a cosponsor -- usually a piece of cake.
In a press release issued the day Bill 6-213 was introduced, Mason was reduced to saying that "I welcome the cosponsorship of my colleagues." But so far, none has rushed to sign up. Nor have hearings on the bill been scheduled. "It could be the deep-sleep treatment for another year," says a lobbyist for a local health care agency.
But there's no good reason for that -- political or otherwise. All that 6-213 would do is to establish a "smoking zone" in most D.C. offices. Smokers could smoke there, but nowhere else in the workplace.
Yes, the bill would make smokers get up and walk a few feet before lighting up. And yes, smokers could face fines if they light up where they have been used to lighting up for years.
But smokers manage not to smoke in subways, elevators and movie theaters. The workplace is no more hallowed than any of those. It is simply the next frontier.
Any discussion of smoking in the workplace usually gets bogged down sooner or later in the question of rights. But Bill 6-213 preserves the rights of both smokers and nonsmokers.
The bill does not make smoking illegal. It simply relegates smoking to a corner of the workplace that's far enough away from nonsmokers not to bother them. That is not an infringement on a liberty. It is simply a practical step that will make nonsmokers happier and offices more efficient.
It should also make businesses more profitable. When a similar bill was being considered in Los Angeles last winter, Glenn Barr, a legislative assistant to L.A. City Council member Marvin Braude, anticipated resistance from the business community. Barr told researcher Wendy Melillo that he studied several companies that had banned smoking voluntarily. He found some persuasive numbers.
Boeing, the Seattle aircraft manufacturer, "found they were spending more on medical insurance premiums than on aluminum to build airplanes," Barr said. "They have saved $10 million by prohibiting smoking. Smoking employes cost them from $500 to $4,500 in health benefits a year."
Nor is that latter figure atypical. Barr said a national accounting study "showed that a smoker costs an employer an average of $4,611 a year." Nonsmokers cost about one-fifth of that, according to several sources in the insurance industry.
But numbers by themselves will not sway the D.C. City Council, especially with much of the business community opposed to Bill 6-213. It will take public opinion. Lots of it. Hundreds of letters worth. Dozens of phone calls worth. Scores of people who call council member Nadine Winter, who heads the council's Public Works Committee, at 724-8064 and demand that hearings be held.
We nonsmokers have suffered serious health problems from inhaling the second-hand smoke of our coworkers. All we want is an even break, in the form of a law that gives us equal -- not greater, not unfair, but equal -- protection.
The Board of Trade doesn't have to sit in a secretarial pool every day, with its lungs burning because the person at the next typewriter smokes.
The Tobacco Institute doesn't have to visit the doctor every few weeks for medication to control allergies caused by office mates who smoke.
The Apartment and Office Building Association doesn't have to buy new clothes six times a year because the old ones stink of someone else's smoke.
But people do. People like you. People like me.
It's time for a change. Bill 6-213 provides it, in the right ways, at the right time.