Bring back smoking in the House lobby!
Back in January 2007, just as Nancy Pelosi had taken over as House Majority Leader, one of her first actions was to ban smoking in the House Speaker’s Lobby. As the Washington Post reported:
One of the heaviest smokers, Rep. John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), who is partial to Barclays, was resigned to the new reality yesterday. As majority leader in the last Congress, Boehner ignored calls to ban smoking from the Speaker’s Lobby. But now, as minority leader, he has little choice but to abide by Pelosi’s wishes and told reporters he was fine with the ban.
For generations, the Speaker’s Lobby has been the most visible space where smokers gather inside the Capitol. It is an ornate space dotted with fireplaces, leather armchairs and chandeliers. Lawmakers relax there between votes and debates, often meeting with staff members, reporters or the public and huddling in informal groups. Cigarette smokers tended to dominate the daytime hours there; at night, the cigar smokers took over.
Pelosi said she was banning smoking from the area to protect the health of the staff, reporters and public who spend time in the lobby. “Medical science has unquestionably established the dangerous effects of secondhand smoke, including an increased risk of cancer and respiratory diseases. I am a firm believer that Congress should lead by example,” Pelosi said in a statement. “The days of smoke-filled rooms in the United States Capitol are over.”
Not quite Madame Speaker. In one month, the smoke-filled room, good ol’ boy Country-club lovin’ days are back. And Boehner, who has seen more money from the tobacco lobby pour into his campaign coffers than from any other contributor over the years ($340,000 in total), is unashamed of his habit.
In an exchange with Bob Schieffer, the host of “Face the Nation” on CBS, Mr. Boehner conceded that cigarettes were a “bad habit” but expressed no willingness to give them up.
And Mr. Boehner said he and other Americans should have the right to decide for themselves.
Mr. Schieffer raised the issue by recounting his own past addiction. “Mr. Boehner, I’m going to ask you this question because I’m not objective about this,” he said. “I’m a cancer survivor. I used to be a heavy smoker. Do you still smoke?”
Mr. Boehner: “I do.”
Mr. Schieffer: “You have taken $340,000 from the tobacco industry. They’ve been the largest contributor to your political campaigns over the years. How do you square that with the fact that cigarette smoking is the leading cause of preventable deaths in this country – 435,000 people, their deaths are linked to cancer. That’s one in five. How do you – how do you justify that in your own mind.”
“Bob, tobacco is a legal product in America,” Mr. Boehner replied. “And the American people have the right to decide for themselves whether they want to partake or not.” Noting that many things are bad for a person’s health, he added, “The American people ought to have the right to make those decisions on their own.”
Mr. Schieffer was not persuaded. “Well, I mean they have a right to shoot themselves if they choose to, but I mean shouldn’t we do something to try to encourage them not to?”
Mr. Boehner then took a more conciliatory tack. “Well, listen. I wish I didn’t have this bad habit and it is a bad habit. You’ve had it. You’ve dealt with it. But it’s something that I choose to do. And, you know, at some point, maybe I’ll decide I’ve had enough of it.”
Maybe the President will be more likely to visit the Speaker’s office now that the smoking ban has been lifted. Should Obama and Boehner quit smoking? Who cares? But Tom Brokaw seems to thing so.
Regardless, you have to respect Boehner’s uncompromising response to Schieffer’s ridiculous line of questioning.
Why does Boehner enjoy smoking so much? Maybe because there’s a direct correlation between alcohol consumption and cigarettes. Turns out alcohol magnifies the rewarding effects of smoking, even for light smokers.
“Data from epidemiological studies have shown that people who drink alcohol are more likely to smoke, and the heavier the drinking pattern, the heavier the smoking”
Perhaps the drinking / cigarette correlation is a chicken vs. egg type question, but one theory for why some people smoke when they drink is that nicotine may offset the sedative effects of alcohol. At a pack a day for the past 30 years, we’re walking about a lot of alcohol.