GSA cracks down on smoking in and around federal buildings

A bulletin issued on Monday by the General Services Administration bans smoking in the courtyards of federal buildings and within 25 feet of doorways and intake ducts on the outside of federal buildings. The new regulation also does away with interior smoking rooms, which have been an exception to long-standing bans on smoking inside federal buildings.

The new smoking policies, which apply to all buildings under the jurisdiction, custody or control of GSA, will be phased in over a six-month period to give agencies time to comply with their collective bargaining obligations in situations where the changes affect conditions of employment and there is exclusive representation for the affected employees.

Monday's bulletin cancels and replaces a 1997 regulation, Protecting Federal Employees and the Public from Exposure to Tobacco Smoke in the Federal Workplace (62 FR 54461). The 1997 rule, which implemented an executive order from President Clinton, prohibited the smoking of tobacco products in all interior space owned, rented or leased by the executive branch, except in specially equipped designated smoking areas, outdoor areas in front of air intake ducts, and certain other residential and nonfederal occupied space.

In issuing the new regulations, GSA noted that during the past decade, as research has shown the effects of secondhand smoke, 26 states have banned smoking entirely in state government buildings and 19 have banned smoking in all private work places.

The American Lung Association began circulating a petition on Dec. 15 calling on President-elect Barack Obama to close smoking "loopholes," including designated smoking rooms, and protect all federal workers from secondhand smoke. The petition cited a 2006 surgeon general's report that "separating smokers from nonsmokers, cleaning the air, and ventilating buildings cannot eliminate exposures of nonsmokers to secondhand smoke."

Since smoking feds soon will be forced even further out into the cold, GSA urged the heads of executive agencies to implement programs to help employees quit. Program materials are available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Colleen M. Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, said her organization is examining the rule to determine its impact on employees. "What the regulation fails to recognize," she said, "is that smoking is an addiction fostered by the tobacco industry for decades and often has a disabling impact on 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. It is important that they have a place to go that is away from other employees and safe for them as well."

There are exceptions to the new smoking bans. The new regulations do not apply to residential accommodations for people voluntarily or involuntarily residing, on a temporary or long-term basis, in federal buildings, nor do they apply to portions of federally owned buildings being leased to nonfederal parties. Agency heads also have the authority to grant limited and narrow exceptions when necessary to accomplish missions. GSA urged officials to tailor any exceptions to provide protection for nonsmokers from tobacco exposure.

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