Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
February 10, 2016

Democrats Pushing to Make Vaping Verboten Around Capitol Hill

Democrats want e-cigarrettes included in rules regulating tobacco smoking around Capitol Hill.  (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Democrats want e-cigarrettes included in rules regulating tobacco smoking around Capitol Hill. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Under current rules, nothing would stop a senator from sucking on an electronic cigarette while strolling the halls of Congress. No rules prohibit members of the House or congressional employees from puffing on the liquid nicotine devices. Tourists are also free to spend their Capitol Hill visit vaping.

While tobacco smoking is banned in public areas of the Capitol and House and Senate office buildings within 25 feet of their entrances, the prohibitions do not extend to e-cigarettes.

New Senate regulations drafted at the urging of Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., could change that in one wing of the Capitol campus.

On April 29, the same day it became illegal to smoke an electronic cigarette inside virtually all public buildings in Chicago, Durbin told CQ Roll Call that the Senate needs to move quickly on the issue. Proponents point out that cities across the country, including New York and Los Angeles, have already enacted similar restrictions.

“The urgency is the fact that the e-cigarette marketing is so successful among children,” he said. “They’ve doubled the percentage of high school students who are using their product, so we need to move, and move quickly.”

Teens visiting the nation’s capital could be part of that population, according to Durbin — “no question about it.”

Senate Health, Education Labor and Pensions Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, who joined a 2008 push to shutter designated smoking areas in the Hart and Dirksen office buildings, also told CQ Roll Call he wants to see e-cigarette use restricted on campus, though he has never seen anyone vaping on the Hill.

Senate Rules and Administration Chairman Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., previously indicated he would back a move to restrict the use of electronic cigarettes on Capitol grounds by treating them like more traditional cigarettes. Schumer spokesman Matt House told CQ Roll Call that the minority on the committee is currently reviewing the rule.

Ranking member Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said he didn’t know anything about such a move and declined to comment. Minority committee staff did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Democrats in the House also say they want to crack down on e-cigarettes.

“I see no reason why we ought to treat e-cigarettes any differently than cigarettes,” House Energy and Commerce ranking member Henry A. Waxman, D-Calif., said in an interview in the Speaker’s Lobby — once a favorite nicotine haven. “I think they’re harmful. It’s a delivery system for the drug nicotine, and unfortunately it’s being marketed in a way that leaves a lot of young people with the sense that maybe this is a safe alternative.”

A spokesman for Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, said the issue is not under discussion at this time.

In the case of traditional cigarettes, the House acted a few years ahead of the Senate in its efforts to limit smoking on Capitol Hill. During the speakership of now-Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., the House shuttered sanctioned smoking lounges, and banned smoking in the ornate Speaker’s Lobby. The Pelosi-era regulations have remained in place under Boehner.

Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill said in a statement that the minority leader supports efforts by Waxman and Durbin to create e-cigarette regulations that are consistent with those governing the use of regular cigarettes.

Rep. Lois Capps, D-Calif., a vocal opponent of e-cigarettes, is also interested in trying to restrict vaping on campus. Capps, who is co-sponsoring a bill that attempts to curb marketing of the product to children, said in an interview that she is currently focused on regulating e-cigarette advertising, but thinks the House should consider a ban.

“The e-cigarettes, I think, are a new phenomenon that we have to take into account particularly as it’s marketed to young people.”

House Administration Chairwoman Candice S. Miller, who holds the gavel on the panel in charge of day-to-day operations of Congress, said she has not heard any complaints on the issue. Miller added that she’s never seen an e-cigarette used on campus.

“Maybe somebody’s smoking it around me and I just don’t realize,” she said. “It’s just vapor, isn’t it?”


    The Republican party and their cronies have done themselves a great disservice by holding the extension bill hostage since late last December. While they continued delaying and rejecting each proposal submitted in the senate, millions of families have suffered adversely financially. Millions of families have faced eviction, home foreclosures, personal bankruptcy, and homelessness, while the republican senate played “party politics”, using these families as bargaining chips, for political leverage, to further their political agenda. These are people with children who are suffering for no fault of their own, because of lay offs and corporate downsizing. These are not the “lazy” unemployed workers depicted in the press by some republicans in the senate. It’s always easy to point blame at others for failures, rather to one’s own self for failed policies. Remember, it wasn’t the poor and unemployed that caused our economy “meltdown” several years ago. It was the greedy bankers that were responsible, and needed bailing out with taxpayer’s dollars. Which after the bail outs, gave each other huge bonuses. Now the republican party, with senators such as John Boehner, are holding the much needed help for these families as leverage for the passing of their OIL bill in the senate. Sadly, this is what it all comes down to. I hope the republicans are prepared for the tremendous backlash by these millions of families and their loved ones in the coming elections. They may not care at the moment, but I assure you that they will realized their mistake when the democrats win by another landslide. The republicans have proven themselves to represent only the interests of a chosen few in our great country

  • Tamara Lawson

    I am 60 years old and have smoked an average of 2 packs of cigarettes a day for 42 years. I started vaping 2 months ago and haven’t had a cigarette in 2 months. And I can’t imagine ever having one again. Nothing in the world could ever help me stop smoking (I have tried everything). e-cigarettes are a miracle for all smokers. The constant misinformation put out by the media that e-cigs are out to lure children is absolutely ridiculous. 80 percent of people vaping are ex-hard core smokers who are now able to breath again. The fact that the e-juice is fruit flavored has nothing to do with children. 60 year olds like cherry too !!! Save lives…. leave vaping alone !

  • DJ

    Looks like some politicians have been bought off by Big Pharma and Big Tobacco. It’s not about health but money and taxes. If you don’t have any science backing your argument then use the kid card. I assume they will start banning candy flavored liquor in the future. Vaping is the most innovative Tobacco Harm Reduction invention ever to actually combat smoking but they want to believe it is smoking TOTALLY RIDICULOUS.

  • Coffee Fiend

    Here we find yet another democrat reprobate arrested for distributing child pornography:

  • ricandersen

    I don’t object to Durbin claiming vamping has doubled among high school students. But it is insincere of him to not include the corresponding percentage increase/decrease of tobacco smoking among high school students.

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