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

Sneak attack on smokefree law

Unbelievable.

Without any public notice or input, the D.C. Council blew a hole on Tuesday in the really popular smokefree workplaces law. By a 12-1 vote on an amendment to the budget, they said that certain hotels could be exempt from the law one night a year.

What a huge disservice to hotel workers. What contempt for the citizens of the District.

Below is a copy of a letter Smokefree DC sent to the Council today. Please email the Council and urge them to repeal the measure. Make sure to thank Councilmember Phil Mendelson for being the only member to vote for worker and public health.

June 17, 2011

Councilmembers,

On Tuesday, when you voted 12-1 to blast a hole in the District’s smokefree workplaces law without public notice or input, you did a huge disservice to hotel workers and showed contempt for the citizens of the District.

The exemption you voted for is not just for one event, Fight Night. The language allows for exemptions for any “hotel licensed under D.C. Official Code § 25-113.” That means that dozens of hotels are eligible to apply for an exemption each year, meaning that there could be dozens of events annually that permit cigar smoking.

We have heard that this exemption is excusable because “it is for charity.” That is flat wrong. Nothing in the measure limits the exemption to charitable events; anyone can take advantage of it. Please don’t think of amending it to make it just for charity events that benefit children, such as Fight Night. Teaching kids that it’s okay to poison people with cigar smoke is not okay.

Your action is baffling. The smokefree workplaces law is enormously popular. It has undoubtedly helped curb illness among workers and the public. There is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke. Secondhand smoke causes lung cancer and heart disease, and aggravates respiratory illnesses. It’s not okay to make workers breathe it for just a night, or two, or three or more. To create such an exemption is unconscionable. Permitting employees to opt out “with no penalty” is not worth much if the workers don’t get paid.

Further, enacting this measure sends a message to the electorate that the Council doesn’t take seriously the laws it passes. It also sets 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. To do so with the smokefree workplaces law is a huge mistake. There is no social, economic or health reason to permit this exemption.

We especially object to the manner in which this was done. It was underhanded and clearly designed as an end-run around the process. Recall that when Councilmember Jack Evans considered introducing the same measure through regular channels, Councilmember David Catania rightly said he would not consider it because it was the wrong thing to do. Councilmember Evans couldn’t get his way in a legitimate process and so decided to engage in a sneak attack. That’s shameful.

Three cheers to Councilmember Phil Mendelson for doing the right thing and voting against it. It is unbelievable that the rest of the Council did not follow suit.

We strongly urge you to repeal this measure.

Angela Bradbery

Co-founder, Smokefree DC

202-669-6517

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