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Is the Air Any Cleaner?

Smoke-Filled Rooms are in Washington, D.C., But Cigars Survive Behind Closed Doors
Diana McLellan
From the Print Edition:
maduro issue, Winter 93/94

(continued from page 3)

"I was testing something Clarence Darrow used to do," he explained afterward. "Darrow used wire in cigars to keep the ash from falling. I had inserted a straightened-out paper clip before I lit up. It worked very well."

When I talked to Smith, he had just returned from a seminar in New Mexico, where a highlight had been a visit to an historic pueblo, in whose smoke room the most sacred ceremonies were held--"where smoking was a specific activity to bring people together."

Something about cigars has always pleased the judicial mind--at least the male one--at the highest level. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Ginsburg turned down the chambers formerly occupied by Justice Clarence Thomas because of the still-lingering fragrance of his beloved cigars, which he puffs daily. Chief Justice William Rehnquist is a smoker, and Justice Antonin Scalia is an occasional, but ardent, cigar buff.

Most enjoy the ceremony as much as the cigar. As Judge Smith observes, "Cigar smoking adds an element of civility to life. When you remove any civility, you make the process less decent and humane."

Alas, as cigar smokers increasingly find, the civility these days is all theirs. Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper, reported a sorry turn of events when Rep. Jim Traficant, the Ohio Democrat, proposed a bill that would block any smoking whatsoever in federal buildings.

Passionate cigar lover Rep. Jack Brooks of Texas (who likes to light up in tandem with Illinois Rep. Henry J. Hyde during closed-door Judiciary Committee meetings) bumped into Traficant shortly thereafter and waved his trademark stogie at the upstart.

"Just try and get this cigar away from me," an irate Brooks challenged.

"I'm going to take that cigar," said Traficant, "and turn it into a suppository."

Not a pretty exchange. But one that shows how the balance of power has changed since smoke-filled rooms really were smoke-filled rooms. One observer recalls a high-powered meeting at which Heather Foley, wife of then House Whip and now Speaker Tom Foley, asked House Speaker Tip O'Neill to put out his cigar. (O'Neill, by the way, smoked dreadful drugstore Websters when be couldn't get Cubans.)

"Heather," said O'Neill, simply, "If you don't like the smoke, why don't you move to the other side of the room?"

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