Smoke-Filled Rooms Back In Capitol Under House Republicans

Critics have been complaining about certain lawmakers' cigar "hotboxing."
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In a flashback to decades past, some congressional offices are filling up again with pungent cigar smoke from apparently lung-cancer-blasé Republicans, evoking renewed images of smoky rooms filled with cigar-chomping deal makers.

Reuters reporter Patricia Zengerle believes the smoke is prevalent now because there are more Republicans who are smoking — and perhaps smoking more — since the party won the House majority.

“So there’s indoor smoking on the House side of the Capitol now that the Republicans have taken control,” Zengerle reported earlier this week.

Some reporters quipped the lawmakers were “hotboxing” cigar smoke — smoking in confined spaces, which is used more typically to refer to inhaling joints.

“When you have a change in party control, and they move offices like they just did if the member who moves into the office is ... a cigar smoker — you have smoke,” Zengerle wrote.

The District of Columbia requires all public buildings to be smoke-free, and an executive order signed by former President Bill Clinton that prohibited smoking in federal buildings. But House lawmakers’ private offices are exempted, making the Capitol one of the few “office buildings” left in the nation where smoking is allowed inside, Bloomberg noted.

A Daily Beast political reporter complained in a tweet about “cigar hotboxing” in a “certain Rules Committee chairman’s office” near the House press gallery. She added that the smell permeates “multiple floors” because his office is near a “high-use” elevator.

House Rules Committee Chairman Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma (R-Okla.) can often be found smoking in his committee’s area on the third floor of the Capitol, Bloomberg noted. Notably, Cole has been a speaker at Cigar Association events. He appears to be making a particular mark while asserting his right to smoke cigars.

HuffPost’s Arthur Delaney said he was “struck by an overwhelming aroma of cigar smoke outside the Rules Committee when lawmakers returned to Washington Jan. 3. The odor has stayed strong since,” he added.

The press gallery, on the opposite side of the hallway from the office, now has “several air purifiers running” to cope with the smell, Delaney noted.

Pressed about the smells oozing outside his office this week, Cole reportedly vowed: “I’m not giving up cigars.”

Several others on Twitter shared concerns about the health impact of those inhaling second-hand smoke and the possible airborne nicotine damage to the walls and treasured artwork in the Capitol.

A long series of efforts beginning in 1871 to sharply curtail smoking in the Capitol did not block congressional lawmakers from smoking in their offices, subjecting visiting constituents and staff to the smoke.

Republican leaders have a particular reputation as smokers.

Former House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) smoked so many cigarettes that incoming Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) needed new carpets, new paint and an ozone machine to purify the air — at taxpayer expense — to make the place usable again in 2015, The New York Times reported at the time.

Former Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) banned smoking from much of the building in 2007, including the popular speaker’s lobby, when Democrats were in charge — but members could still smoke in their offices.

Smoking is not permitted anywhere on the Senate side of the Capitol. The Centers for Disease Control says cigarette smoking is responsible for 480,000 deaths a year in the U.S., with about 41,000 of those due to inhaling second-hand smoke.

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