Senator Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ) has applauded action by the Senate Rules Committee to close two smoking rooms in Senate office buildings, a move that will protect the health of Senate staff and U.S. Capitol visitors alike. The closure takes effect today and makes the Senate office buildings some of the first buildings on Capitol Hill to be completely smoke-free.

"Congress should be setting an example when it comes to fighting the health risks of smoking and second-hand smoke. Closing down the smoking rooms and our recent ban on tobacco sales in the Senate are critical steps that will improve the health of those who visit and work in the Senate," Sen. Lautenberg said. "I want to thank Chairman Feinstein for working with me to keep those who work and visit here safer."

In August, Lautenberg and Senators Tom Harkin (D-IA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Jack Reed (D-RI) sent a letter to Senate Rules Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), requesting the committee "protect the health of employees and visitors to the Senate by eliminating smoking in Senate buildings entirely." The two smoking rooms closed by the committee's action were next to a coffee shop in the basement of the Hart Senate Office building; and in the Dirksen Senate Office building cafeteria. Now, smoking is prohibited in all of the Senate's public buildings.

Last year, Lautenberg worked with the same five senators and the Rules Committee to successfully ban the sales of tobacco in the Senate. The Senate shops used to sell chewing tobacco, cigars and cigarettes by the pack and carton; however, these tobacco products were sold at a discount because no state excise or sales taxes are applied. The staff at the Senate shops also failed to check buyer's ID's.

A 21-year-old intern in Lautenberg's office was able to buy a pack of cigarettes for $3.75 at a Senate shop without showing identification. When she purchased cigarettes for $5.50 at a store across the street from the Senate she was asked to show her ID. Stores are supposed to require identification for cigarette purchases if the customer does not appear to be at least 27 years old.

In March, Sens. Lautenberg and Olympia J. Snowe (R-ME) introduced legislation to prohibit tobacco companies from using a Federal Trade Commission (FTC) cigarette testing method to market their cigarettes as "light" or "low-tar." During a hearing he chaired, Lautenberg demonstrated that the FTC testing method was flawed and that "light" and "low-tar cigarettes" often cause the smoker to receive more tar and nicotine than regular cigarettes.

Lautenberg wrote the law to ban smoking on airplanes, protecting individuals from deadly secondhand smoke and helping to trigger a broader smoke-free revolution.

Tobacco-related diseases kill 440,000 Americans every year and the nation spends $89 billion in medical costs every year as a result of tobacco use. Each day 1,500 American children and teenagers become new smokers.

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