Smokefree DC is a citizen-based group whose goal is to promote smokefree environments in Washington, DC.

Shallal, Graham, Allen top Smokefree DC candidate questionnaire

One thing was clear from the candidate questionnaires that Smokefree DC reviewed last week: Most candidates vying for office in the April 1 primary are spot-on when it comes to understanding some key secondhand smoke issues. At the same time, though, they are clueless about other secondhand smoke issues, often contradicting the logic they exhibited in a previous question.

In fact, we were pretty stunned by the variation within the same questionnaires — in one question, the candidate would recognize the health hazards of secondhand smoke, while in the next, he or she would express a market-forces-should-prevail opinion.

However, a few candidates stood out as fully grasping the fact that secondhand smoke is a health hazard, and that the right of nonsmokers to breathe clean air should trump a smoker’s desire to light up. Those who aced the questionnaire:

* Mayoral candidate Andy Shallal, who has been an early and longtime supporter of smokefree workplaces and made his restaurant/bar Mimi’s smokefree long before the law required him to do so;

* Councilmember Jim Graham, who also has been a longtime supporter of smokefree workplaces and  is running for re-election to his Ward 1 seat; and

* Charles Allen, who is contending for the seat of his former boss, Tommy Wells, in Ward 6.

Brianne Nadeau, who is trying to unseat Graham in Ward 1, also got high marks, earning a B+.

Councilmember Mary Cheh (Ward 3), did really well on some answers but not so well on others, which gave her a C+. It is worth noting that she  pushed hard last year to expand a smokefree playground bill to include not just playgrounds, but parks and bus shelters as well. And a couple of years ago, she recognized and tried to block a move to blow a huge hole in the smokefree workplace law under the guise of making an exception for just two events. We greatly appreciate her support and took her record into account, as we did with all candidates.

Kenyan McDuffie, who is running to keep his Ward 5 seat, and Anita Bonds, who is vying to keep her At-Large seat, both got Cs for the same reason: they had really strong answers on some questions but very weak answers on others.

Even the candidates who didn’t do so well overall had some really excellent answers on some of the questions. But that wasn’t enough to outweigh some answers that we found really problematic. They were the current mayor, Vince Gray; mayoral candidates Muriel Bowser, Jack Evans and Reta Lewis; and Ward 6 candidate Darrel Thompson, all of whom got Fs.

The questionnaire had 11 questions. We assigned points to each question so the points added to 100, then added up the totals for each candidate.

We admit that we are tough graders.  It’s no longer sufficient to simply not oppose smokefree legislation.  We want the cigar exception that the Council carved out in 2011 without public input repealed.  Anyone who is okay with keeping it is not going to get an A from us.  And because the questionnaire has just 11 questions, each one is weighted pretty heavily. So doing poorly on one question (such as opposing tobacco-free pharmacy legislation) may lead to a full drop  in a letter grade.

You can view all the answers here. Candidates whose names do not appear did not respond to the questionnaire.

Thanks to the candidates who took the time to answer the questions. For those who didn’t do so well: If you win, we would be happy to meet with you and talk about how to help ensure the District’s nonsmoking residents can breathe cleaner air.



E-cigarettes may be subject to Capitol smokefree policy

A move is afoot on Capitol Hill to protect nonsmokers from the unknown effects of the chemicals emitted by e-cigarettes.

According to a recent Politico story, some Democrats are calling for e-cigarettes to be included in the Capitol’s smokefree policy.

That’s absolutely the right thing to do, for two reasons:

1) We know that visible, smoke-like vapor comes out of e-cigarettes, but we don’t know exactly what chemicals are in the vapor; and

2) E-cigarettes look like cigarettes, and when they are used, they emit white vapor that looks and smells like cigarette smoke. Permitting the use of e-cigarettes in smokefree areas could cause confusion and prompt smokers of real cigarettes to light up.

The lawmakers who are pushing this sensible measure are U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Edward Markey (D-Mass.), Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), and U.S. Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.).

They should be commended, and the D.C. Council should follow suit.

Smokefree DC urges D.C. Council to regulate e-cigarettes


Smoke from an e-cig

Little did I know when I testified before the D.C. Committee on Health this week about the need to regulate e-cigarettes that I was sitting next to a convicted felon.

Bruce Bereano, representing the Maryland Association of Tobacco and Candy Distributors, sat next to me on the first panel. He was pompous and pugnacious, and he made some absolutely ludicrous statements.

(Earlier this year, Bereano lost an attempt to overturn his 1994 fraud conviction. He falsely billed clients, then gave the money to politicians via his political action committee. He was sentenced to five months in prison and five months in home detention, and was fined $30,000. Despite this, and the fact that he was stripped of his law license, he is still considered a powerful lobbyist in Annapolis. Go figure.)

The bill we were there to speak about was the Electronic Cigarette Parity Amendment Act of 2013 (B20-233), introduced by Councilmembers Yvette Alexander (D-Ward 7) and David Grosso (D-At-Large). The idea is to treat e-cigarettes like other tobacco products – restrict their sales to minors, ensure they won’t be used in smokefree areas and so forth. It’s a great idea, and we applaud Alexander and Grosso for introducing it.

In my testimony, I made three points: The health effects on nonsmokers of the vapor emitted by e-cigarettes are unknown; e-cigarette use in smokefree venues will cause confusion and could weaken the city’s very popular and effective smokefree workplace law; and e-cigarettes are being regulated by other jurisdictions throughout the country.

Continue reading Smokefree DC urges D.C. Council to regulate e-cigarettes

Council chair cuts e-cigarettes out of smokefree parks bill

Boycott the Westin City Center

Flickr photo of Phil Mendelson courtesy of mar is sea Y

Last week, the D.C. Council voted unanimously to make all D.C. parks and bus shelters smokefree.

There’s just one hitch: The bill was weakened by the Council Chair, Phil Mendelson, who amended it on the floor.

His amendments, which we didn’t get until well after the vote, did two things: 1) eliminate criminal penalties; and 2) specify that the measure pertains only to tobacco products. E-cigarettes, which D.C. Councilmember Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) had rightly added, are no longer covered.

How shortsighted. Here’s why:

1) E-cigarettes emit smoke-like vapors containing chemicals that have not yet been analyzed for safety by the FDA. Here’s a helpful excerpt from a recent Los Angeles Times editorial:
According to the FDA, e-cigarettes contain many chemicals and ultrafine particles that can become embedded in the lungs, just as regular cigarettes do. The effect on people sitting nearby — in other words, people inhaling secondhand vapor — isn’t known. The mist certainly isn’t as smelly, cough-inducing or annoying as tobacco smoke. One German study found that toxins were still a problem in secondhand vapor, but at about 20% of the level from tobacco cigarettes. And a report this year by the German Cancer Research Center concluded that harm to secondhand inhalers couldn’t be ruled out because of metals and carcinogenic chemicals. The paper also cited the substances that irritate people’s airways as a reason not to assume that “vaping” indoors harms no one other than the person puffing on the e-cigarette.”
The bottom line: Anyone in the vicinity of an e-cigarette smoker is being subjected to chemicals whose safety is still in question. Many cities are including e-cigarettes in smokefree laws.

2) E-cigarettes can look very realistic. What the smoker blows out looks like smoke. This creates confusion if they are smoked in areas that are supposed to be smokefree, and may prompt people who smoke cigarettes to light up their real cigarettes. If you want to see what smoking an e-cigarette looks like, check out this video.

3) E-cigarettes are becoming a gateway for teens to get into smoking, especially since the liquid comes in a variety of flavors. Forty state attorneys general are calling for a ban on e-cigarette sales to kids and the regulation of e-cigarette marketing.

Once upon a time, Mendelson was a staunch supporter of smokefree workplaces. In fact, he was one of the original supporters on the Council of the smokefree workplace law, back when only three Councilmembers publicly supported the idea.

We are urging Mendelson to amend this new bill to include e-cigarettes, as was intended. Feel the same way? email

D.C. parks, bus shelters to be smokefree

The D.C. Council took a major step today by making all city parks and bus shelters smokefree.

It marks the first time that the city has required any outdoor areas to be smokefree. (The Council has passed legislation permitting business owners to post no-smoking signs in front of their doors, but that is voluntary. And the city’s smokefree workplace law addresses indoor areas only.)

The measure passed today applies to all city parks, dog parks, trails, community facilities, playgrounds, swimming pools, spray parks, neighborhood recreation centers and other similar facilities owned or maintained by the District.

(Now it will be possible to sit on the porch at Hains Point on a summer evening without sucking in cigar and cigarette smoke from patrons. But we digress.)


The measure, which the Council approved unanimously on second reading (Bill 20-0095), was amended to remove criminal penalties and to clarify that the businesses that are now exempt from the smokefree law (such as cigar bars), would not be affected. (The committee-approved version is here. This doesn’t reflect the amendments approved today.)

We must give a shout-out of appreciation to Councilmember David Grosso (D-At-Large), who objected to the removal of criminal sanctions. “I think there should be stiff penalities,” he said. “Secondhand smoke is serious.”

The bill was originally introduced by Councilmember Vincent Orange (D-At-Large) as a smokefree playgrounds bill. Councilmember Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3), who chairs the Committee on Transportation and the Environment, strengthened it. Kudos to them both.

It is telling that this measure was noncontroversial. We remember the reaction in 2002 to the proposal that bars – gasp! – be made smokefree. One would have thought that the world was going to end.

Continue reading D.C. parks, bus shelters to be smokefree

Washington Post backs smokefree parks measure

The Washington Post is backing a smokefree parks and bus shelters measure that the Council tentatively approved in July.

In an editorial that ran over the weekend, the paper wrote:

The move to restrict outdoor smoking, also supported by Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s administration, is an encouraging sign of the council’s renewed interest in trying to discourage smoking.

The paper noted the lack of opposition to making outdoor areas smokefree, saying that it is likely a reflection of the public’s lowered tolerance for smoking.

The paper suggested that the measure is good but isn’t enough, rightly noting that D.C. needs to ensure that money is dedicated annually to tobacco control measures:

Anything that discourages smoking and protects people from the harmful effects of secondhand smoke is worthwhile. But the city needs to do more than extend outdoor smoking restrictions if it wants a truly effective and comprehensive tobacco prevention program. … The District has lagged in mounting a comprehensive tobacco prevention program; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) ranked D.C. 35th among states in the funding of cessation programs. The $495,000 cited by the CDC for fiscal 2013 is an improvement over the previous year, when no money was allocated.

A final Council vote is expected in September.

City responds to Smokefree DC's complaint about illegal hookah bars

Soho Hookahs

flickr photo courtesy of Garry Knight

The D.C. government soon will notify hookah bars that are operating without an exemption to the smokefree workplace law that they are breaking the law.

Smokefree DC notified the city in April about more than half a dozen establishments that were permitting smoking indoors without having a certificate of exemption from the Department of Health.

The Department of Health explained to us that it was difficult to enforce the smokefree law because of the way the penalties were written — a violation calls for a criminal penalty, which means the police must get involved. The department has told us that it is taking a couple of steps to remedy this.

First, it has put into place emergency rules that make a violation of the law a civil matter. Second, it has designated DOH food inspectors to enforce the smokefree law. Third, it is forming an interagency task force consisting of representatives from other agencies. The idea is to enforce the smokefree workplace law from a variety of angles.

In an email sent today to Smokefree DC, a DOH representative said:

As we continue to work on a comprehensive enforcement strategy, the DOH Food Safety and Hygiene Inspection Services team will investigate complaints and issue fines.   In the coming weeks we will conduct an educational campaign for the restaurant community about Smoke free Workplaces and allow a voluntary cease and desist period.  We expect fine enforcement to begin in mid/late September.

We appreciate the city taking the steps necessary to ensure the integrity of the smokefree workplace law.

Kudos to Union Station for making outdoor areas smokefree!

Kudos to Union Station, which just made several outdoor areas smokefree.

The clean air can be found in the West Carriage Porch and the front portico of Union Station.

The property management company for the station made the move after realizing that secondhand smokefree was driving potential customers away from the farmers’ market.

The signs went up late last week.

Don’t they look great?

Please visit Union Station and let the vendors and managers know you appreciate breathing clean air!

Smokefree parks, bus shelters bill gets initial Council okay

Mary Cheh (Ward 3) at a DC Council meeting.

The D.C. Council today voted 10-3 for a measure to make D.C. parks, recreation centers, pools, trails and bus shelters smokefree. This is the first of two votes; the final vote on Bill 20-95, the “Smoking Restriction Amendment Act of 2013,” (a better name would be the “Kids Can Breathe Clean Air Act”) will come in September.

The interesting thing is who voted against — and for — the bill. We were pretty surprised that a strong “no” vote came from Council Chair Phil Mendelson, who has been a longtime and strong supporter of smokefree measures. in fact, Mendelson was one of just three Councilmembers who bravely attached their names to the first smokefree workplace measure introduced in the early 2000s. (For a long time, there were just three names on it.) Today, Mendelson said that he objected to criminal penalties being included in the bill.

Strangely, he said that if people objected to smokers at bus stops, they could move away from the smoker. Councilmember Mary Cheh (Ward 3), who has been fabulous in strengthening this bill and pushing it through the legislative process, noted that instead of forcing nonsmokers to move away from the smokers (not really practical when it’s pouring rain), “let the smokers move away from recreation areas and parks and bus stops.” Three cheers to that. She noted that “it’s important to point out the dangers of secondhand smoke, even outdoors.”

Mendelson complained that people who work in the Wilson building wouldn’t be able to take smoke breaks at Freedom Plaza across the street. Cheh noted that it is a federal enclave and so wouldn’t be covered by this bill. (Fortunately, Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton is working to change that.)

The other who voted against: Marion Barry (Ward 8), who echoed Mendelson’s concerns, and Anita Bonds (At Large), who said nothing.

The bill was originally introduced by Councilmembers Vincent Orange (At-Large), David Grosso (At-Large) and Jim Graham (Ward 1).

We were pleased that Jack Evans (Ward 2) voted for it and even said supportive things about it to the Washington Post. (Evans has not been a huge fan of the smokefree movement.) Other councilmembers voted for it, even though they have been less-than-solid on smokefree issues in the past. We are glad to see they understand that smoking and parks don’t go together.

As Cheh said, parks are “where children play. I don’t want them to be exposed to secondhand smoke. … This as a public health measure is clearly warranted and I think its  silly to think we shouldn’t protect the public from secondhand smoke.”


Smokefree playground measure advances

Great news: What started as a smokefree playground bill now includes parks, recreation centers and bus stops. It was approved unanimously today by the D.C. Council Committee on Transportation and the Environment.

According to the committee report for Bill 20-095, the “Smoking Restriction Amendment Act of 2013″ (could we rename it something like, the “Kids Will Be Able to Breathe Clean Air Now Act”?), the revised bill would prohibit the use of all tobacco products within parks, dog parks, trails, community facilities, swimming pools, spray parks and neighborhood recreation centers owned or maintained by the District.

Hooray. Members of the committee, which is chaired by Councilmember Mary Cheh (Ward 3), include Councilmembers Jim Graham (Ward 1),  Kenyan McDuffie (Ward 5), Tommy Wells (Ward 6) and David Grosso (At-Large).

The commitee report noted that nearly 300 U.S. municipalities have made bus stops smokefree, including Montgomery County, and more than 800 U.S. cities and municipalities have enacted laws making local parks smokefree. Secondhand smoke is a known health hazard; there is no safe level of exposure to it.

Smokefree DC testified for the bill. You can read about the hearing here.

We’ll let you know when the Council will vote. In the meantime, please let your local Councilmember know that you support this sensible health measure.