IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Republican rule returning smoking to the U.S. Capitol really stinks

The Republican Party seems to have reached a point where it rejects public health advisories and warnings as a matter of course.
Smoking a cigarette

Smoking a cigarette with smoke around and a blurred background
Zhang Rong / Getty Images/iStockphoto

Among this month’s embarrassing Republican spectacles has been the sight of Rep. Troy Nehls, R-Texas, appearing on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show and touting the expansion of places where smoking is permitted in the U.S. Capitol as being “all about freedom.” 

Nehls was already plenty free to light one up privately. But what is freedom to the Republicans if not the ability to imperil somebody else?

At no point have members of Congress been banned from smoking in their offices. The 2007 ban on smoking included more public areas of the U.S. Capitol Complex, which means that Nehls was already plenty free to light up one privately. But what is freedom to the Republicans if not the ability to imperil somebody else? 

Carlson prefaced his segment with Nehls by railing against Covid-19 vaccines. Then he threw in the lie that the Biden administration has been “actively encouraging” Americans to use “meth and crack.” And then he set Nehls up to pummel liberals with this question: “What is it about tobacco that triggers them so profoundly?”

Nehls, referring to the cigars protruding from his breast pocket, said, “I don’t know, maybe they’ve never tried one.”

Or, I don’t know, maybe all the tobacco users who’ve died of illnesses associated with tobacco use has had a disincentivizing effect. Maybe 41,000 people a year dying in the U.S. because of exposure to secondhand smoke is a contributor. While smoking cigarettes is one of the more reliable ways to shorten one’s life span, Carlson (a former smoker who has been known to constantly chew nicotine gum) praised Nehls for coming on his show and showing the willingness to “stand up for the most American of all pleasures.”

 “It is true,” Carlson said of tobacco. “It founded the country.” Yeah, somewhere around 1619, am I right, Tucker?

At this point, every ad for, every fundraising request from and every television appearance featuring a Republican candidate ought to come with a surgeon general’s warning similar to the one on packaging for cigarettes, cigars and chewing tobacco: Supporting these folks is hazardous to your health. After all, who stands more defiantly opposed to the idea that the government has a role and an interest in the public’s health than the GOP? 

At this point, every ad for a Republican candidate ought to come with a surgeon general’s warning.

There are the big-picture stances the party or its members have taken, including opposition to the Affordable Care Act (and its provision expanding Medicaid), opposition to legislation that lowered the cost of prescription drugs, opposition to expanded free school-lunch programs, opposition to restrictions on guns, opposition to family leave, opposition to Covid-19 vaccine mandates and opposition to wearing masks during some of the worst times of the pandemic. 

 At the same time, there have been the smaller (but even more absurd) Republican-led fights targeting Michelle Obama’s pesticide-free White House vegetable garden and President Barack Obama’s policy mandating healthier school lunches, laws mandating that motorcyclists wear helmets and, more recently, a finding from the Consumer Product Safety Commission that children in homes with gas ranges have a higher risk of developing asthma. By seemingly rejecting health advisories and warnings as a matter of course, the GOP’s faux Nietzschean philosophy appears to be: That which is killing me is freedom.

There are debates to be had over how involved the government should be in public health and how vigorously it should enforce its public health policies, but a political movement that finds itself cheering on cancer-causing activities and gloating as if the suffering will fall upon its opposition is inhaling something a tad more hallucinogenic than tobacco.

In their shameless celebration of carcinogenic activities, Carlson and Nehls made it a point to attribute the now-defunct ban on smoking to former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. While Pelosi did make that change, it’s worth noting that Speaker Paul Ryan, who followed Republican chain-smoker John Boehner in that role and in that physical office, was the one who spoke of the need to change the carpeting and bring in “ozone machines” to “detoxify the environment.” 

 “You know if you ever go to a hotel room or get a rental car that has been smoked in? That’s what this smells like.”

 That’s funny. Because at the end of Carlson’s interview with Nehls, the host thanked the Texas politician for appearing and for “striking a blow for freedom” and he called the smoke from Nehls’ cigars the “smell of freedom.” 

Is that what that is: freedom? If so, freedom really stinks.