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US smokers face ban on lighting up at work

WASHINGTON - The Clinton administration yesterday proposed sharply to curtail smoking in workplaces and in such public areas as bars and restaurants, and it raised the possibility of treating cigarettes as an addictive drug.

The chief of US food and drug regulators restated the contention that cigarette companies may be keeping nicotine in their cigarettes at addictive levels to keep smokers hooked. The cigarette companies deny that charge.

The Labor Department led off action on the increasingly lively US anti-smoking front by proposing worker safety rules that would force businesses to ban smoking at the work site or provide separate, enclosed work areas with ventilation to stop the smoke from circulating elsewhere.

The proposed rule would apply to more than 6 million workplaces and would also effectively ban smoking in restaurants and bars, Joseph Dear, head of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, said. He said smoking would not be allowed in hotel rooms while workers were present. The rules would only take effect after a lengthy government review and public comment process, which Mr Dear said may take 'a couple of years'. He said suggestions for change would be considered.

David Kessler, the head of the US Food and Drug Administration, asserted at a congressional hearing: 'Accumulating evidence suggests that cigarette manufacturers may . . . be controlling smokers' choice by controlling the levels of nicotine in their products in a manner that creates and sustains an addiction in the vast majority of smokers.'