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

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.


Smokefree parks: a great idea by Eleanor Holmes Norton

Eleanor Holmes Norton

By Federal Office of Eleanor Holmes Norton

D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton has come up with a great idea: make federal parks smokefree.

She is pitching this idea because many of the parks in D.C. are federally owned, which means the smokefree parks bill moving through the D.C. legislative process will be less effective if federal parks aren’t smokefree as well.

(According to a discussion at the May hearing on the smokefree parks, bill, there may be another route to this: An agreement between D.C. and the National Park Service. But we digress.)

Norton has written a letter to the regional director of the National Park Service, which controls most of D.C.’s parks. In it, she notes:

[R]esidents and visitors should be able to enjoy our parks free of health risks, including second-hand smoke, which contributes to asthma, bronchitis, cancer and other severe health conditions. One should not go to an NPS park to enjoy the outdoors and find smoke instead of fresh air. Freedom from second-hand smoke in the outdoors is particularly important in big cities like D.C., where pollution and traffic congestion already contribute to health conditions similar to those caused by second-hand smoke.

(Nice how she uses the freedom frame.)

Think the national parks should be smokefree? Call the regional office at (202) 619-7000 or tweet to @natlparkservice.

Cheh receptive to smokefree playgrounds measure


flickr photo courtesy of Ants Colony

The good news from today’s hearing by the D.C. Council’s Committee on Transportation and the Environment on two smokefree playground bills: The committee’s chair, Mary Cheh (Ward 3), was extremely receptive to the testimony of those who spoke. She said she would like to expand the scope of the bill, possibly to include all parks and bus shelters.

The bad news: Cheh was the only member of the committee who attended the hearing. It was a shame that the others weren’t there, because those who testified were thoughtful, well-informed and well-prepared. No one spoke against the bills, 20-93 and 20-95.

Some who testified focused on the health effects of secondhand smoke, particularly on children. Others talked about the need to change social norms that encourage kids to start smoking at an early age.

Those testifying included representatives from the American Heart and Stroke Association, the D.C. Cancer Consortium and Breathe DC. Government witnesses came from the Department of Health and Department of Parks and Recreation. Cheh listened carefully and asked thoughtful questions.

We at Smokefree DC testified, pointing out that new research shows that nonsmokers must be quite a distance from smokers outside to avoid exposure to secondhand smoke. If we are to protect children from toxins while they are in the playground, then by extension, we should make all parks smokefree, since children don’t just confine themselves to the playground.

Cheh was receptive and suggested that transit shelters be made smokefree, which those testifying agreed with.

Jim Bogden, a volunteer with Smokefree DC who was testifying as a representative of the Center for Health and Health Care in Schools (CHHCS), a nonpartisan policy and program resource center at George Washington University’s School of Public Health and Health Services, told Cheh that D.C. school officials seem to be unaware of legislation approved by the Council that makes school grounds tobacco-free – including school parking lots and sports fields. Cheh was not pleased to hear it.

The next step? We go to a mark-up, probably a few months from now.

If you think the Council should make all playgrounds, parks and bus shelters smokefree, call or email them.



DOH responds to our letter about illegal hookah, cigar bars

Good news: Our letter about potentially illegal hookah and cigar bars in the city is getting reaction. (See our earlier post for the letter.)

Dr. Saul Levin, interim director of the city’s Department of Health, wrote back to us, saying that he is”deeply concerned about the proliferation of [h]ookah bars” and that he is exploring options.

Now, according to news reports, including this story by dcist, it appears as though the department is considering forming a task force.

We were interested about some of the explanations given to dcist about why the bars haven’t applied for an exemption from the smokefree law. Apparently the establishments didn’t think they needed to get a certificate of exemption.

Really? If you’re opening a business, isn’t it incumbent on you to check out what the rules are before you open? And if you want to open a business that allows smoking in a city with a smokefree workplace law, wouldn’t you look into how to do that?

We are pleased the city is taking action. We’ll keep you posted when we learn more.




Hookah, cigar bars appear to be operating illegally

The new hookah bars popping up around town — and a new cigar bar in Friendship Heights — have raised eyebrows among us here at Smokefree DC.

Hookah and cigar bars are allowed, of course, but only if a certain percentage of their sales are tobacco, and only after they get cleared by the city’s Department of Health to allow smoking. (Read the law and regulations here.)

We looked on the DOH website, but none of the new establishments were listed as having exemptions. We called and confirmed that the list on the site is indeed updated, which makes us conclude that these places are operating illegally. One of them, Sahra Lounge, has a picture on the website showing people smoking hookah inside.

Just to be sure that we weren’t going to be unfairly accusing a business of breaking the law, we conducted site visits and confirmed that yes, people were smoking inside these establishments.

Today, we sent a letter to the Department of Health and cc’d the mayor, City Council and city administrator. We’ll post an update when we hear back.


Zukerberg tops grading of questionnaires for April 23 special election

ballot, mainly candidates

flickr photo courtesy of aka_lusi

We weren’t expecting this, but here are the results of Smokefree DC’s grading of our candidate questionnaires: marijuana defense attorney Paul Zukerberg topped the field with a “B,” while former Washington Post reporter Elissa Silverman followed with a “D” and ANC commissioner Matthew Frumin received an “F.”

Green Party candidate Perry Redd sent us a response — sort of. It’s hard to describe. We are posting the letter so you can read it for yourself.

Neither Anita Bonds, the pick of the Democratic establishment, nor Patrick Mara, the lone Republican in the race, responded to us. Michael Brown, who lost his seat last year and is trying to get back on the Council, referred us to his answers in a previous race(he got an “F”). However, we changed a few of the questions, so they aren’t totally comparable.

This questionnaire is a bit different from the previous one; we asked about candidates’ commitment to making bus stops in the District smokefree. As always, we looked for candidates who understand that secondhand smoke is harmful and that people deserve to be protected from it.

Read the candidates’ answers here:

Matthew Frumin – F

Elissa Silverman – D

Paul Zukerberg – B

Perry Redd’s response letter


D.C. Council to consider smokefree playground bill

Playground Rings

flickr photo courtesy of cryptic_star

Smoke-free playgrounds?

That would definitely be a step in the right direction here in the District of Columbia.

D.C. Councilmember Vincent Orange this week introduced a bill that would make areas near playgrounds smoke-free.

According to the bill text sent to us by Orange’s office, the measure would:

prohibit smoking within 25 feet of playground or pay area located on a public or private educational facility or on a District of Columbia Parks and Recreation Center.

A playground or play area is defined in the bill as any outdoor area with equipment or devices intended to be used for play by minors, including swing sets, sand boxes, slides, seesaws and play houses.

The measure, which D.C. Councilmembers Jim Graham (Ward 1) and David Grosso (At-Large) also signed on to, would exempt people who live within 25 feet of a playground or play area.

According to news reports, Orange was prompted to introduce the measure by complaints he had received about people smoking around children on playgrounds. Secondhand smoke is harmful to adults, but it is really bad for kids.

It would be great if all parks were smoke-free, regardless of whether playground equipment was there or not. But this certainly is a good step.