Labor Department Gets In On Antismoking Push

YET another push to ban smoking in workplaces is surfacing, this time in the Labor Department.

Labor Secretary Robert Reich announced Friday that the department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration is moving to regulate environmental cigarette smoke to improve indoor air quality. The proposal would apply to more than 6 million workplaces under the administration's jurisdiction.

The administration's plan to ban smoking is part of a broader effort to counter ``the sick-building syndrome,'' the assortment of problems caused by poor indoor air quality. Reich says his proposal is ``an investment in prevention'' that will ``save lives, reduce health-care costs, and increase productivity.''

Stepped up efforts to ban smoking came after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) last month accused the tobacco industry of injecting cigarettes with extra nicotine and asked Congress to let it regulate tobacco as a drug. Then the Defense Department said all its workplaces would be smoke-free. Many states are considering or have enforced smoking curbs in public buildings. Maryland will make it illegal to smoke in any workplace, including bars. Washington has banned smoking in offices.

Businesses have also imposed restrictions. McDonald's made its eateries smoke-free. A House subcommittee will soon vote on an antismoking bill that would make almost all public buildings smoke-free.

However, the tobacco industry is fighting back. Two weeks ago, activists rallied to fight the proposed 75 cent tax on cigarettes to finance President Clinton's health plan. Other proposal provisions would require employers who work in buildings where smoking isn't prohibited by local requirements to designate enclosed smoking rooms.

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