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

D.C. tobacco bill inches forward

A bill that would enable D.C. businessowners to post “no smoking” signs outside their property inched forward through the legislative process today.

The provision, just a few lines long, is tucked into a much larger bill (B18-428) design to curb tobacco sales to minors. The D.C. Council on Public Safety and the Judiciary approved the bill 4-0.

The signage provision came because of reports from business owners that secondhand smoke was drifting into offices through doors and windows, thereby violating the spirit of the smokefree workplaces law. Indeed, Smokefree DC has received quite a few calls about this — one from a cardiologist’s office. One need not know a huge amount about the health harms of secondhand smoke to know that it is about the last thing heart patients need.

The bill provoked a lively discussion, with Councilmember Mary Cheh objecting to a proposed amendment that would ban single sales of cigars. Cheh’s husband occasionally likes to smoke a cigar after dinner, she explained, and she wants him and other cigar smokers to be able to stop at a convenience store and buy a cigar. The committee decided that the amendment, designed to target sales of blunts (used as drug paraphrenalia) will be rewritten.

Cheh also noted that the signage provision for building owners lacks enforcement. In other words, if a smoker doesn’t abide by the no-smoking sign, the business owner can’t call the cops. “There is nothing behind this,” she said. “This is bizarre.”

True, but as Committee Chair Phil Mendelson pointed out, to have enforcement, the Council would have to ban smoking on sidewalks, which he thinks they are not about to do. But Councilmember Cheh, if you would like to discuss ways to give it teeth, we’re all ears.

In fact, city ordinances regulating smoking on sidewalks is not such a radical concept. Many jurisdictions have so-called setback requirements in their smokefree laws that say people may not smoke within a certain number of feet from building entrances.

We could do that here in the District, but we would have to figure out how to handle neighborhoods like Adams Morgan and Georgetown, where the sidewalks are narrow. A 25-foot setback in those neighborhoods would put smokers in the middle of the street.

Cheh also objected to a provision that would make it a misdemeanor for a minor to use a fake ID to get tobacco — it’s a bit harsh for kids to rack up  criminal record for those offenses, she said. The committee backed down and agreed to remove the misdemeanor provision and replace it with graduated fines — those that increase with each violation.

The bill now moves to the full Council for a first reading. We’ll let you know when we have a date.

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