Dividing government buildings into smoking and nonsmoking sections is an absurd idea. Government employees don't work in large, bay areas with row upon row of desks. Most federal employees nowadays have private offices. Smoking is not a problem; the issue is moot.

Were smoking areas to be designated, as Sen. Ted Stevens has proposed in his bill S. 1440, downtime would soon overtake work time. Smoking is a way to relax, a way to help deal with the stress of the job. Prohibiting smoking at one's desk surely would exacerbate the tension already felt by many smokers, while forcing them to take smoking breaks.

Is the government actually going to institute "smoke sites"? Ridiculous. How appalling to think of an employee, a smoker, walking off to a smoke site, leaving the telephone unmanned and interrpting the business at hand. Won't this create resentment among the nonsmoking employees who are left doing double duty, covering for the absent smoker? Of course. And, more than that, a problem has been created for the middle manager to analyze and solve.

Smokers have rights just like anyone else. To be forced into exile to smoke is a punishment.

Think, too, of the associated costs of establishing smoking areas. Consider, for example, the additional space that would be required in small offices or the alterations to the existing space. The costs of reconfiguration -- the cost of new telephone installation alone -- would be enormous.

The laissez-faire approach works in my office, where there are 16 of us. Two of us are smokers (I am one of the two). I refrain from smoking in other people's private offices, as well as around those employees in the common areas of the office. I smoke freely in my private office. My secretary (a light smoker), who sits in a semi-private area, has a smoke-eating ashtray. We experience no difficulties. As intelligent adults we respect the wishes and sensitivities of each other on the smoking issue.

To promulgate rules and regulations to segregate smoking from nonsmoking employees is preposterous.