The Republicans are back in control in the US House of Representatives, and that means members are once again allowed to smoke inside the building.
The Republican majority has made the rule change despite the fact that smoking indoors is banned in Washington, DC and generally considered to have negative effects on people’s health. The House and Senate are federal property, governed by rules largely left up to House and Senate leadership.
Former Speaker Nancy Pelosi banned smoking from much of the House premises when she took control in 2007, but members were still allowed to smoke inside their offices.
Rep Tom Cole of Oklahoma took full advantage of the new rules earlier this week, much to the chagrin of a number of reporters stationed near his office.
Laura Davison of Bloomberg reported on Thursday that the first attempt to curtail the practice of smoking in Congress came more than 150 years ago, when Speaker James G Blaine of Maine banned smoking in the galleries and on the floor of the House while in legislative session. The Senate banned smoking in its chamber in 1914.
Bill Clinton banned smoking in a number of federal buildings during his presidency, but only those under the control of the executive branch. In the House, where Kevin McCarthy was finally elected Speaker and leader of the new, slim Republican majority after 15 rounds of balloting, the majority makes many of its own rules.
Under Mr McCarthy’s leadership, the House remains one of a select few office buildings in the country that still allows smoking. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), tobacco use is the number one cause of preventable disease, disability, and death in the country.
“Over 16 million people live with at least one disease caused by smoking, and 58 million nonsmoking Americans are exposed to secondhand smoke,” the CDC website reads.
Under Republican House leadership, those numbers appear set to increase.