Arkansas State Lawmaker Wants to Ban Chewing Tobacco in House, Senate Chambers

At the Arkansas Legislature, it's against the rules for a lawmaker to have even a cup of water sitting on his desk. That cup of spittle with a day's worth of tobacco juice is OK, though.

A state representative disgusted by the expectorate wants a state law that would rid the House and Senate of Styrofoam spittoons.

"It's gross. We can't even have water at our desk," said Rep. Pam Adcock, who plans to file legislation that would ban all tobacco products from the House and Senate chambers, not just cigarettes. Gov. Mike Beebe, a former state senator, indicated he would support the ban.

Adcock hasn't developed a specific proposal but, in general, wants to expand a 2000 law that banned smoking in the Capitol.

"I just don't want them spitting near me," said Adcock, a smoker.

A law banning smoking in nearly all indoor workplaces in Arkansas went into effect last year. It does not cover chewing tobacco.

"I think we've delved into an area that we really have no business making a rule out of, unless somebody's been spit on or they've thrown up because they looked into a cup or something like that," said Rep. Rick Saunders, D-Hot Springs.

Adcock, D-Little Rock, said she did not know how many House members use chewing tobacco and declined to name any who do. She denied that her push for the ban had anything to do with her own smoking.

"It's not 'Gotcha,"' Adcock said.

Her supporters said a ban on smokeless tobacco would be similar to other rules regulating legislators' decorum while in the Capitol. Chamber policy bars food and drink from the floor.

"I think somebody spitting into a cup on our desk really doesn't put us in the best light to the public," said Rep. Robbie Wills, D-Conway.

Adcock withdrew her proposal to change the House rules after about a half-hour of debate Wednesday but told reporters afterward she would pursue the ban when the Legislature meets again in January 2009. Adcock said she did not know if the ban would cover only legislators.

Beebe said later he believed all tobacco use had stopped at the Capitol.

"It's fine with me. I thought it was already banned," Beebe said.

Rep. Monty Davenport, D-Yellville, who's used chewing tobacco during committee hearings and on the House floor, said he would probably vote against the ban if it came up during the session, but doubted it would cause much trouble among lawmakers. He also said there's a way to use smokeless tobacco without offending the public.

"There's a fine art to where you don't get too much," Davenport said. He pulled a can of Skoal from his pocket during an interview in a Capitol hallway. "If you get too much, it starts running down your chin and yeah, that probably violates decorum. You've got to be judicious in your use of this."