Capitol smoking, drinking privileges should be banned

Posted: Monday, March 07, 2005

The special privileges that legislators allow themselves on drinking and smoking in the Capitol building are remnants of a time gone by and should be abolished.

Thirty years ago, most meetings — whether by government bodies or by private corporations — opened with most attendees lighting up cigarettes and passing around ashtrays. And working lunches in restaurants often started with a martini or glass of wine.

Though the notion of political decisions being hashed out in smoke-filled rooms over glasses of bourbon seems like a cliche now, it was once a fact of real life.

The world has appropriately moved on since then. Cigarette smoking is recognized as a dangerous habit carrying a significant risk of cancer. And for some that noontime drink can lead to an unproductive and sleepy afternoon or, worst-case scenario for those susceptible, to an alcoholic binge.

Most people can drink in moderation and do so. Others who recognize that they cannot, manage to abstain. But alcoholism remains a rampant disease in Alaska and excess liquor results in many fatalities, both on the highways and the rural trails where snowmachiners travel.

The risk of both behaviors is well understood and recognized. Smoking is banned in virtually all other government buildings and in many private places, as well. And cocktail hour is generally held outside work premises and postponed until work is done for the day and time for relaxation begins.

Alaska legislators often spend long hours in the Capitol and that is the primary reason why the practice of drinking in the building was not banned long ago. Many enjoy having a glass of their favorite beverage while gathering with colleagues and discussing business in the evening hours, when many staff workers have quit for the day.

But legislators should hold themselves to the same standards imposed on government workers at all levels and for both workers and visitors in government buildings. Drinking and smoking in the Capitol are anachronisms, practices from a more leisurely and permissive past. They don't fit in — and are not allowable — in today's politically correct world.

And if legislators deny themselves such comforts, perhaps they will tire of the session sooner, complete their work earlier, adjourn and go home. That by itself is good reason to ban both drinking and smoking inside the Capitol.

— Voice of the Times,

Feb. 27

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