Out of the Army now

AS the old song says: ``You're in the Army now.'' But the macho stereotype of the nonstop cigarette-smoking American soldier is clearly on the way out. The Army, which has long sold cigarettes at a cheap price at its PXs, has recently discovered that almost half its employees now smoke. A new Army edict bars smoking for all Army employees on the job or in Army vehicles unless specifically allowed by posted signs. Nonsmoking regulations -- particularly at the state and local level -- have been growing swiftly in the '80s in the aftermath of several major studies faulting the adverse impact of smoking in public places. Eight states and more than 50 cities, including San Francisco and Los Angeles, now limit smoking in the private workplace. New York City is weighing a measure to limit smoking both at work and in restaurants; it would be one of the toughest laws in the nation. Recent surveys indicate that about one-third of US private employers now restrict smoking in the workplace. An increasing number, including most recently Texas Instruments, are putting an outright ban on all smoking at work. Some 15 states now have laws requiring nonsmoking sections in restaurants.

Progress has been least swift at the federal level, where the tobacco industry has concentrated the bulk of its lobbying efforts. But the Army's action may set a new pattern. And just last month the General Services Administration, which covers most federal agencies, issued new guidelines that would bar smoking in general office space, conference rooms, libraries, and restrooms. The proposals have been published in the Federal Register but have yet to become law. ``I think it will be a big fight, but we'll win,'' says John Banzhaf, executive director of Action on Smoking and Health (ASH).

It was Mr. Banzhaf's group that pioneered the effort in the 1960s to persuade airlines to set aside special no-smoking sections. Now, often as many as two-thirds of the seats on any flight are so designated. At least one airline in both Sweden and Canada has banned smoking on all flights.

And it is not just the nonsmokers who are pressing for relief: A Gallup poll last year found that the majority now favoring smoking restrictions in the workplace include a full 80 percent of smokers themselves.

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