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

Smokefree DC's letter to the Council urging defeat of Jack Evans exemption bill

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Today, Smokefree DC sent the following letter to Councilmember David Catania (At Large), chair of the city’s health committee, and ccd the mayor and D.C. Council.

Note that the legislation introduced recently by Councilmember Jack Evans (Ward 2) would apply to dozens of hotels, permitting dozens of exemptions to the smokefree workplaces law annually. This is a lot worse than his usual “emergency” legislation, which applies just to two events a year.

Feb. 22, 2011

Dear Councilmember Catania,

We recently became aware of legislation that has been referred to your committee that would permit certain exemptions to the smokefree workplaces law. We urge you not to bring it to a hearing or a vote.

The measure would permit hotels licensed under $ 25-113 to be exempt from the Department of Health Functions Clarification Act of 2001 annually for a day to host special events that permit cigar smoking. Dozens of hotels would be eligible to apply, meaning the smokefree workplaces law could be suspended for events dozens of times a year. The measure was introduced by Councilmember Jack Evans, who every year introduces “emergency” legislation to permit his club, the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick, to be exempt from the law on St. Patrick’s Day. It appears as though he is trying to avoid going to the Council every year by making his annual “emergency” bill permanent.

Councilmember, this bill is a terrible idea for the following reasons:

1)    The smokefree workplaces law, which you championed and which has been a huge success, exists to protect workers from secondhand smoke. There is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke. It’s not okay to make workers breathe it for just a night, or two, or three or more.

2)    Enacting this measure would send a message to the electorate that the Council doesn’t take seriously the laws it passes. People could make the argument that the city should have no problem if people other than those exempted from the law violate it.

3)    If passed, the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick would be receiving special treatment; they would be told they are above the law that applies to everyone else. This is cronyism at its worst – Councilmember Evans is trying to push through a bill to let his friends break the law. Giving special favors and exemptions to the law for friends is unethical and violates the rule of law.

4)    This would set a terrible precedent. We don’t give people a pass on any other health and safety law on the books – not the fire code, not rules requiring food to be kept at safe temperatures, not rules prohibiting rat infestations. Let’s not start now.

5)    There appears to be no public support for this bill. The Friendly Sons of St. Patrick have never publicly requested this exemption, and no other Friendly Sons chapter anywhere permits smoking of any kind at their events. To our knowledge, no other club is clamoring for it either.

6)    Councilmember Evans has never stated a reason this exemption is needed. If secondhand smoke is toxic, there is no purpose to occasionally permit it in the workplace.

7)    There is no social, economic or health reason to permit this exemption.

For those reasons, we urge you not to advance the bill. If similar “emergency” legislation is presented to the full Council to apply to this year’s St. Patrick’s Day, we urge you to vote it down.


Angela Bradbery

Co-founder, Smokefree DC

cc: Mayor Vincent Gray and the D.C. Council

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