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

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.


Update: Montgomery County Council extends protections for non-smokers

Update: The Montgomery County Council today extended protections for non-smokers from secondhand smoke. Way to go!

One of the provisions of the measure makes bus stops smokefree.

Will the District follow suit? It should.

Montgomery County Councilmember Nancy Floreen, who sponsored the measure, noted:

There is no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke. We are stewards of public health. The passage of Bill 33-12 will help us to protect our residents, employees and visitors from dangerous exposure.

Montgomery County Council to make county property smokefree

The Montgomery County Council on Tuesday will consider making almost all county-owned property smokefree.  The measure is anticipated to pass.

It should.

The measure would protect non-smokers from secondhand smoke at bus stops and bus shelters. The Falls Road golf course would be exempt.

Fairfax County made bus shelters smokefree in 2010. Once Montgomery County approves this measure, D.C. and other jurisdictions should follow suit.

More information about the Montgomery County measure is available here.

Editorial: The gun control movement should take a page from the smokefree movement

CREDO Calls on NRA to Stand Down

Here’s a great editorial from the Christian Science Monitor: “Answers to Gun Violence May Lie in Nonsmoking Campaigns.”

The piece notes that several decades ago, smoking was considered glamorous.

Then, as more information about the hazards of smoking became available and the dangers posed to nonsmokers by secondhand smoke, public opinion shifted.

After a string of massacres, particularly the recent Sandy Hook tragedy in Connecticut, public opinion appears to be shifting. Have we reached a tipping point? Let’s hope. Here’s what the Monitor writes:

An official curb on risky products or practice isn’t nearly as powerful as a shift in public attitudes about what is acceptable. … This social stigma against smoking was to protect the innocent, and that idea should now apply to guns as well. And just as the nonsmoking movement started first with local and state bans on public smoking, so, too, have many cities and states moved to curb guns or tighten background checks.

So look less to Congress for ideas to prevent another Sandy Hook and more to a shift in opinion polls, a decline in gun sales, or even more turn-in-your-gun events at police stations. Better yet, ask former smokers from the 1960s or ’70s why they don’t smoke anymore.

April 23 election: Watch this space for candidate answers

On April 23, the D.C. will hold an election to fill an at-large Council seat.

Smokefree DC is sending the candidates a questionnaire to help determine their positions on secondhand smoke and other tobacco policies.

Watch this space! We will post results in early March.