Anti-tobacco groups praise bill to ban smoking in federal buildings

Francis Dean/Newscom
A bill to widen current smoking restrictions to cover all federal buildings was introduced this month by Rep. Susan Davis, D-Calif., after President Obama declined her request in 2009 to enact the policy through executive order, Davis press secretary Aaron Hunter told Government Executive.

The legislation is being hailed by anti-tobacco groups as "long overdue."

Davis' Smoke-Free Federal Buildings Act (H.R. 3382) would prohibit smoking in and 25 feet around all facilities owned or leased by the federal government nationwide while also barring designated smoking sections.

"Exposure to secondhand smoke is a serious health issue that drives up health care costs for all of us," Davis said in a statement. "Federal workers should be able to work in a healthy, smoke-free environment." Enforcement would be up to each agency.

Current policy, under a bulletin the General Services Administration issued in December 2008, contains similar requirements but is not enforced at buildings not administered by GSA.

GSA's directive ended the designated smoking areas option that has been in place since President Clinton issued an executive order curbing smoking on federal sites in 1997. GSA gave agencies six months to negotiate enforcement with employee unions, which have expressed skepticism about the enforceability of a policy, given the nature of tobacco addiction.

One purpose of the Davis bill, said Hunter, is to codify the GSA policy while also expanding its reach.

Erika Sward, director of national advocacy at the American Lung Association, said Davis' bill is "needed and long overdue," citing a Congressional Research Service report that GSA's policy applies to only 30 percent of buildings housing federal employees. The state of Maryland has enacted a smoke-free workplace policy, she said, "but if you're a federal worker in Maryland, you may actually be subjected to secondhand smoke and forced to breathe it. And if a federal worker develops a disease because of breathing secondhand smoke, the taxpayer pays through their health care bills."

The American Lung Association rejects the argument that smoking bans aren't enforceable. Data from the state experience show that "the policies are often self-policing and self-enforcing," Sward said. "Smokers actually like them because it gives them an approach to quit. It's a win-win."

Those sentiments were echoed by Marie Cocco, spokeswoman for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, who said there are no significant enforcement problems in the 29 states that have enacted comprehensive smoke-free indoor workplace laws. "Even in taverns and restaurants, once the policy's in place, people love it," she said. "To do anything else would mean forcing someone to choose between their health and their paycheck."

The Davis bill is co-sponsored by Reps. Diana DeGette, D-Colo.; Rush Holt, D-N.J.; and Gregory Meeks, D-N.Y.; and Del. Eni F.H. Faleomavaega, D-Samoa. For the required constitutional authority statement, Davis cites Article I, Section 8, Clause 1, which is to provide for the general welfare.

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