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New GOP Congress May Put Smoking Bans On a Slower Burn

ANTISMOKING groups in Washington believe their prospects for new federal bans have gone up in smoke.

The power shift in Washington to the Republican Party has snuffed out the likelihood of any new legislation on smoking in public places or congressional scrutiny of the tobacco industry.

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Even before the new Congress comes to session, Rep. Thomas Bliley Jr. (R) Virginia has announced he sees no need for any more congressional investigations of the industry. A staunch defender of the tobacco industry, Representative Bliley will take over the chair of the House subcommittee on health and the environment, which has delved into the industry's affairs.

Antismoking advocates admit that federal legislation introduced by the subcommittee's outgoing chairman, Rep. Henry Waxman (D) of California to ban smoking in public places, such as day care centers, is now dead.

``We've pretty well kissed that goodbye,'' says John Banzhaf III, executive director of Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) in Washington. He predicts federal activity will shift from Congress to the agencies.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is currently holding hearings on its proposed rules on environmental tobacco smoke. With over 800 requests to testify, OSHA expects the hearings to last months. Then, the federal agency will review the testimony, revise its proposed rules, and start the process again.

The Food & Drug Administration (FDA) is also trying to decide whether it has the jurisdiction to regulate tobacco as a drug. Commissioner David Kessler has asked Congress whether it wants to consider broader social policy involved in the issue. The ongoing inquiry has no end date.

Because it takes so long to move regulations through federal agencies, some antismoking groups are not optimistic. But Mr. Banzhaf believes OSHA, under federal court scrutiny, will act.

IN the meantime, the toughest antismoking action is coming from states and cities.

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On Jan. 1, 1995, in the strongest antismoking move ever, California will ban smoking in all public and work areas. The New York City Council will vote Dec. 21 on a proposed ban on smoking in most public places, including outdoor athletic stadiums.

The New York proposal is likely to pass since it is cosponsored by 32 of the 50 Council members. Mayor Rudolph Giuliani has stated in the past he will sign the legislation.

``A lot of local groups are looking to build on New York's bill,'' says Peter Fisher, administrator for state issues for the Coalition on Smoking OR Health in Washington. Other state initiatives are likely to aim at higher excise taxes and attempts to limit sales of tobacco to minors.

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