The following story, which ran today, still focuses on what wasn’t accomplished by the Rules Committee, but at least it gives more space to what happened, and credit to Stan Cowan, who prepared detailed testimony in favor of comprehensive protection from secondhand smoke.
Mo. reps rule out smoking ban for offices
Wednesday, January 12, 2011
By DICK ALDRICH
Missouri News Horizon
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The number of places Missouri state representatives can smoke is dwindling, but they will still be allowed to smoke in the confines of their Capitol offices.
The House Rules Committee on Tuesday passed the rules the House will run by for the next two years. Included in the list of changes to previous rules was the banning of smoking in the rear (east) lounge area, immediately behind the House chamber.
The common area is a place for representatives to retreat from the floor for conversations with other lawmakers, a chance to make phone calls and check messages, and even, at times, grab a quick nap. It was also where, since smoking was banned from the House floor in the late 1980s, representatives could light up without penalty.
But in recent years, more and more representatives have objected to the smoky atmosphere of the rear lounge, while some have even become physically ill.
“For me, it’s a matter of life and death,” Rep. Jeannette Mott Oxford, D-St. Louis, told the rules committee. Mott Oxford is a severe asthmatic and the smell of smoke can set off an attack, she said. She favors a complete ban on smoking in the Capitol, and approached the rules committee Tuesday to ask for a ban on smoking in all House controlled portions of the building.
Currently, House members and their staff can smoke in their offices, but nowhere else. Most representatives who do smoke usually wait until the evening hour when the Capitol is virtually devoid of visitors. A quick tour around the building at night finds the smell of cigarettes, and the occasional cigar and pipe, wafting through most of the corridors.
It has not been that long ago when smoking was prevalent in the Capitol, with state senators being allowed to smoke on the floor of the Senate chamber during debate as late as the mid-1990s.
Smoking is now forbidden in any common areas around the Senate chamber, but, like the representatives, senators are allowed to smoke in their offices.
And there is an exception to all smoking rules on the Senate side of the building for veteran tobacco lobbyist John Britton, who has traditionally had a waiver to smoke wherever he may be.
“I think that we need to have a smoke-free capitol,” Mott Oxford said. “It undercuts the message that we give to children not to smoke when tens of thousands of Missouri school children come to this building to tour each year, and clearly can smell smoke.”
Mott Oxford also stressed the dangers of secondhand smoke. The committee also heard testimony from Stan Cowan, a research aid for the department of family and community medicine at the University of Missouri School of Medicine, who said studies show that there is no good remedy for problems associated with secondhand smoke.
“Separate smoking areas for smokers and non smokers do not work,” Cowan told committee members.
But arguments for a smoking ban fell on deaf ears. The committee did not make a motion in regards to a further smoking ban and passed the House rules by a voice vote.
I don’t think it’s a big problem,” said rules committee chairman Rep. John Diehl, R-Town and Country. “We don’t want to take away people’s individual rights to smoke in their offices and other non-public areas.”