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Smokers Lounge, Last of Its Kind in N.H. State House, Gets Extinguished

Todd Bookman/NHPR

State officials have snuffed out the last place lawmakers and legislative staff were allowed to smoke indoors at the State House complex.

Hidden deep in the bowels of the capital, the smokers lounge was a brick-walled room near the entrance to the underground tunnel that separates the State House and its less glamorous cousin, the Legislative Office Building.

It isn’t clear exactly how long the room served as an elements-protected haven for cutting a butt. Smokers were able to use a small anteroom next to Representatives Hall as recently as 2004, but since then, the lounge, with its laminated tables and vinyl-covered chairs, have been the only indoor option.

That was until last month, when the facilities committee that oversees the maintenance and use of the State House voted to permanently close the lounge. 

“More recently, the complaints got to a level that it was just intolerable,” said Terry Pfaff, who serves as chief operating officer of the General Court of New Hampshire.

Though there was a ventilation unit in the ceiling, “it was never very effective,” he said. On a busy day, smoke would waft into the hallway. In the evening, the cleaning crew needed to pass through the stale air to get to a supply closet inside the lounge.

As of March 1st, nobody has been able to light up inside the space. Pfaff said the lounge’s regulars are not all that pleased.

“People have their opinions,” he said, laughing.

But for some lawmakers, including first-term Democrat Samantha Fox of Bow, the idea of a smoking lounge was a relic from a bygone era.

“Like an old boy’s club,” Rep. Fox told NHPR. She introduced a bill this session, HB 1227, that also sought to shutter the smoking lounge. 

Following the facilities committee's order to repurpose the space, Fox recently amendedthe measure to instead create a study committee to look into child care options for lawmakers at the State House. (Recently, a pod for new mothers to breastfeed in private, known as a Mamava, was installed across from the lounge’s glass windows.)

After a thorough cleaning and the removal of yellow-tinged ceiling tiles, the former smoking lounge will be used as a meeting and training room, complete with a whiteboard. 

For those still hankering for a smoke, Pfaff said, his team will erect a small shelter in the parking lot, where the air is fresh.

Todd started as a news correspondent with NHPR in 2009. He spent nearly a decade in the non-profit world, working with international development agencies and anti-poverty groups. He holds a master’s degree in public administration from Columbia University.

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