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UN sparring match over smoking continues

United Nations, Nov. 4 (Reuters): Smoking diplomats and a UN lawyer traded jabs yesterday in the latest round of an international boxing match over where you can smoke with impunity in New York City.

Recalling legendary battles over where diplomats can park on New York streets, the fight centres on whether envoys have tobacco immunity at UN headquarters or must obey city and state laws banning smoking in public areas and workplaces.

Summoned by angry envoys, UN lawyer Bruce Rashkow told the General Assembly’s administrative and budget committee that the UN headquarters compound was bound by a 2002 New York city law and a 2003 New York state law that prohibited smoking in indoor public spaces and areas where people work.

However, under the so-called headquarters agreement between the UN and the US government, the General Assembly could choose to issue regulations allowing delegates to ignore local law, Rashkow added.

In the nearly 60 years since the UN came into being, the General Assembly had issued just four such regulations, he said.

One governed social security benefits for UN staff, another the licensing of professionals working on UN property. A third governed the hours of provision of UN services and the fourth regulated UN liability.

Irritable delegates from Russia, Nigeria, Syria and Mexico, possibly suffering from nicotine withdrawal, insisted it was not a matter of whether people smoked but a question of the assembly’s authority. And Cuba worried how much it cost to remove ashtrays.

The diplomats argued a three-year-old General Assembly resolution limiting smoking to certain areas was applicable rather than any New York ordinances.

But Rashkow said local laws applied unless the assembly issued rules stipulating they did not.

In any case, he went on, only the UN could enforce the law within the UN compound, so diplomats need not fear imminent arrest by New York’s finest.

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