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Huffing and puffing on Capitol Hill

By ELAINE S. POVICH

WASHINGTON -- The new federal regulations banning smoking in government buildings do not have the slightest impact on Capitol Hill, where smoking Friday, as always, was a matter of widely varying policy.

There is no smoking on the floor of the House or Senate but members cannot eat or drink there either, though there are rarely used spittoons still around. Smoking is permitted just off the floors in cloakrooms or surrounding spaces.

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Smoking is banned in some committee rooms but permitted in others. Some cafeterias and restaurants have specific smoking areas, others do not.

In senators' and House members' offices, smoking policy generally follows the boss's view.

Sen. John Chafee, R-R.I., an ardent non-smoker and advocate of high tobacco taxes, has essentially a non-smoking office, though the two staffers who do smoke are not absolutely banned from doing so.

'It's not a fast and furious policy, but it's just so overwhelming,' said one smoking staffer who does not smoke in the office.

But in the office of Sen. Wendell Ford, D-Ky., smoking is the order of the day, starting with the boss, who has smoked since age 18.

Just inside Ford's office door is a first-prize bundle of burley tobacco leaf, framed and under glass. Also on the wall is a photograph of Ford testifying before a committee and holding up a photograph of a magazine ad for Chesterfields -- featuring a young Ronald Reagan with a cigarette in his mouth. Reagan no longer smokes.

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A spokesman for the General Services Administration, which set the rules for government buildings, said Friday the rules 'haven't the slightest effect on Capitol Hill.'

An attorney at the House Legislative Counsel's office noted it is a 'time-honored practice that every committee and every member makes their own rules' on smoking.

The office of Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., famous for his repeated attempts to break a chain-smoking habit, has no policy on smoking.

In the House and Senate press galleries, where smoking is a traditional but fading practice, no attempt was made to restrict smokers from continuing to blow fumes at any and all of their colleagues.

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