Imagine you open the doors to a grand meeting room; a blanket of smoke impairs your vision but you can make out the occasional American flag draped against the walls.
You are in the US House of Representatives. Ahead you see several figures dotted around a table, they would be almost invisible if the smouldering cherries at the tips of their cigarettes weren’t illuminating through the smog.
Suddenly your nostrils filled with the scent of burning as plumes of smoke rush to the still open door and escape into the hallway behind you.
Despite watering eyes you can now make out the snappy suits of the tobacco-toting politicians before you; they are deep in discussion about the biggest issues facing the nation…only pausing to take a draw from their cigarettes.
Though this may sound like a scene pulled from a nineteen-something political drama, or a thrilling war-time documentary, many worry this could be a reality today.
This is because the US Republican party revoked a longstanding ban on smoking in the Capitol Building after recently gaining control of the House of Representatives.
The prohibition was originally introduced by democrat Nancy Pelosi during her time as House Speaker and meant members were barred from lighting up any areas except their offices.
However, the Republicans made the polorising decision to reverse the policy, meaning members of congress and staff are free to ‘puff away’ in the House side of the building. Smoking is still banned in Senate areas.
The move triggered major criticism from political opponents and the public, who questioned why changing the rule seemed to take priority over a catalogue of more pressing issues.
They also highlighted that smoking in indoor public spaces is illegal across the rest of Washington DC, asking why its ‘one rule for them and another for everyone else’.
One Twitter user wrote: “We’ve seen thousands of ads telling people smoking is bad for you…now these Republicans are allowing people to smoke in the Capitol when it is forbidden anywhere else.
“Of course they have to do the opposite.”
Another said: “So Republicans voting to allow smoking in the US Capitol is going to solve inflation and the border issues…did I get that right?”
Following the decision, Texas Congressman Troy Nehls defended the freedom to smoke in a controversial appearance on Fox News.
With a pocket full of cigars on display, he told host and political commentator Tucker Carlson: “I don’t know what all the hoopla is about.”
“For two years I’ve been smoking cigars and no one complained about it, but now they want to come after us because we are in the majority.
“This is typical from the left; they want to infringe on our rights, they’re probably complaining about my aftershave or the colour of my tie, it doesn’t end.”
Amazingly, Carlson actually praised the congressman for standing up for ‘the most American of pleasures’ and said tobacco is the foundation on which the US was built.
The talk show host then ended the segment by saying:
“If you were smoking weed or meth no one would say anything, what is it about tobacco that triggers them so profoundly?”
Nehls confidently responded ‘maybe they’ve never tried one’ before putting a cigar to his lips, pulling out his lighter and motioning to spark up on national TV.
This interview only added to the horror of critics, who were stunned at the pair’s apparent ignorance over the millions of deaths caused by smoking each year.
They detailed how the new policy could not only drive cigarette and cigar use but would also expose unwilling Capitol Building staff to the harmful effects of second hand smoke.
Commenting on Twitter, Dr Kathie Allen said: “Smoking at the Capitol is bad for everyone.
“When caring more about a personal freedom to inflict selfharm causes others to suffer…no one is free.” Shockingly, vaping – which is proven to be 95 percent less harmful than cigarettes – is still banned in the Capitol Building, despite the change in smoking policy.
It is also frequently painted as a public health enemy in the US…even though it has been shown to help millions of people quit tobacco and change their lives for the better.