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

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.”


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