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

Smokefree playground testimony

Testimony of Angela Bradbery

Co-founder of Smokefree DC

Before the Committee on the Transportation and the Environment, Regarding Bill 20-93, the Prohibition of Smoking Near Playgrounds Act of 2013, and Bill 20-95, the Smoking Restriction Amendment Act of 2013

May 13, 2013

Good morning. My name is Angela Bradbery, and I am co-founder of Smokefree DC, the organization that led the successful grassroots push for the smokefree workplace law that the Council passed in 2006.

I am here today to urge you not only to approve a smokefree playground measure, but to expand its scope to include all D.C. parks.

Children don’t stay just within the bounds of playgrounds when they are at play; they visit other areas of parks too. If we are to protect them from secondhand smoke on playgrounds, we should protect them in the rest of the park as well.

There are three points I would like to highlight.

The first is that the science backs making playgrounds and parks smokefree.

1. Science supports smokefree playgrounds and parks

While most secondhand smoke research has focused on indoor areas, research is increasingly being done on the effects of secondhand smoke on nonsmokers outside.

When smoke comes off a cigarette outside, it creates a “microplume” – basically, a thin, concentrated stream of smoke.

The plume of pollutants coming off a cigarette will rise because it is hotter than the air, but it rapidly cools, loses its upward momentum and then descends. The particles and gases are heavier than air, so if there is no wind, the plume will rise to a certain height and then descend. For a group of smokers sitting in an outdoor café or on a park bench, the smoke tends to saturate the local area with secondhand smoke.

The amount of secondhand smoke that someone nearby is exposed to depends on several factors.

The first is the proximity of the nonsmoker to the smoker. The closer a nonsmoker is to the smoker, the more exposure to secondhand smoke pollution. However, research has shown that a nonsmoker can be a good distance from a smoker and still be exposed to a high level of secondhand smoke.

The second factor is the air conditions. If it is humid, the smoke hangs. If it is windy, it dissipates more quickly. But if the nonsmoker is downwind from the smoker, he or she can be exposed to appreciable levels of secondhand smoke.

Stanford University Study: “Real-Time Measurement of Outdoor Tobacco Smoke Particles” (2007) (Attachment 1)

A 2007 study conducted by Stanford University and published in the Journal of the Air and Waste Management Association analyzed secondhand smoke concentrations at restaurant and bar patios, cafes, sidewalks and a public park. Researchers took measurements of secondhand smoke particles from cigarettes at a variety of distances.

The conclusion: Nonsmokers can be exposed to substantial levels of pollutants from cigarettes even if they are as far as 10 feet away from a single smoker and 20 to 50 feet away from multiple smokers.

The lead author of the study, Neil Klepseis, an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford, noted that some people may minimize the significance of secondhand smoke outside because it dissipates. But he said the study findings showed that a person sitting or standing next to a smoker outdoors can breathe in wisps of smoke that are many times more concentrated than normal background air pollution levels.

In answer to the question, “Will I be exposed to secondhand smoke when I visit a typical outdoor setting that allows smoking,” the answer was “yes.” Researchers detected tobacco smoke particles at each of the outdoor locations when smokers were present, even if they weren’t right next to the smoker. Often, researchers measured very high levels of secondhand smoke.

Additional findings:

-       A child in close proximity to adult smokers at a backyard party could receive substantial exposure to secondhand smoke.

-       A nonsmoker exposed multiple times to multiple cigarettes over several hours in an outdoor pub could be exposed to more than the current EPA standard of PM2.5, a toxic pollutant produced by cigarettes, wood-burning stoves and diesel engines. The allowable limit is 35 micrograms per cubic meter of air averaged over 24 hours.

-       Outdoor tobacco smoke consists of brief plumes that sometimes exceed 1,000 micrograms.

-       A person near an outdoor smoker might inhale 50 times more toxic material than in unpolluted air.

-       At outdoor cafes, even nonsmokers seated one or two tables away from a single smoker could receive an appreciable level of exposure to secondhand smoke.

-       The presence of multiple smokers is likely to increase exposure substantially.

-       A nonsmoker who is one or two feet from a single burning cigarette can easily inhale pollution that is 10 times greater on average than background levels. The nonsmoker would have to move 10 feet from the smoker to avoid breathing secondhand smoke.

-       With multiple smokers present, the average levels could be 20, 30 and 50-plus times greater than background range. Nonsmokers would have to move between 20 and 50 feet away from the smokers to avoid breathing the secondhand smoke.

The study noted:

-       “Examples of scenarios where [secondhand smoke] levels might be high include eating dinner with a smoker on an outdoor patio, sitting at a table next to a smoker at a sidewalk café, sitting next to a smoker on a park bench or standing near a smoker outside a building.”

-       “Children who accompany a smoking parent or guardian may experience substantial exposure.

-       “Outdoor restaurant or pub workers who spend a significant portion of their time within a few feet of active smokers are also likely to receive relatively large total [SHS] exposures over the course of a day, possibly exceeding the EPA 24-hour health standard for fine particles.

The bottom line: Secondhand smoke outdoors can present a hazard under certain conditions.

James Repace study: “Benefits of Smoke-Free Regulations in Outdoor Settings: Beaches, Golf Courses, Parks, Patios, and in Motor Vehicles” (2008)

Renowned secondhand smoke expert James Repace published a paper in 2008 about secondhand smoke exposure outside. He looked at other studies and did several experiments himself.

In one, he measured secondhand smoke pollution in five outdoor cafes and on city streets in downtown Helsinki. He found air pollution levels in cafes with many smokers to be 5 to 20 times higher than on sidewalks of busy streets polluted by bus, truck and auto traffic.

Repace also measured outdoor particle pollution at the University of Maryland. He found that one would have to move 23 feet from a smoker to get completely away from secondhand smoke pollution.

In another experiment, Repace took measurements on a cruise ship in the Caribbean. He found that secondhand smoke outdoors where smoking was permitted tripled the level of carcinogens to which nonsmokers were exposed relative to indoor and outdoor areas in which smoking did not occur, despite the strong breezes.

What it all means

It is well-established that secondhand smoke has about 4,000 chemicals, including dozens of carcinogens. The U.S. Surgeon General has declared that there is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke.

Put that together with the new research above, and we have a very good case for enacting legislation to protect children from secondhand smoke in D.C. playgrounds and parks.

It’s not just children. Adults are harmed by secondhand smoke too.

People who have compromised immune systems (if they are undergoing chemotherapy, for instance), asthmatics, people with cardiovascular conditions and others are particularly at risk when exposed to secondhand smoke. Even for healthy adults, there is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke.


2. Cities and counties throughout the country are making outdoor areas smokefree

The second point I would like to make is that we are way behind other cities and counties when it comes to protecting our residents and visitors from secondhand smoke outside.

Smokefree parks: 801 cities and counties in 44 states throughout the country have made their parks smokefree. In addition, the state of Oklahoma and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico have made all parks smokefree. (See Attachment 2, also available at

Smokefree zoos: 58 cities in 20 states have enacted smokefree zoo laws. (See

Smokefree outdoor dining and patios:  249 cities and counties in 29 states have enacted smokefree outdoor dining laws. One hundred and four cities and counties in 13 states have enacted smokefree outdoor dining and bar patio laws. (See Attachment 3, also available at

Smokefree outdoor transit areas: 277 cities and counties in 32 states have enacted smokefree outdoor public transit waiting area laws. In addition, Iowa, New York, Wisconsin, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands have made their public transit waiting areas smokefree. (See Attachment 4, also available at

3. Cigarette butts pose environmental and fire hazards 

Not only do cigarette butts create litter, but they are toxic and harmful to the environment. They are a leading source of pollution in parks and beaches, according to Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights.

Cigarette butts contain carcinogenic chemicals, pesticides and nicotine. The filters are made from cellulose acetate, a plastic that can break into tiny pieces but will never biodegrade or disappear.

Cigarette butts collect in storm drains and end up in waterways, rivers and lakes. There, toxic substances leach from the filter and tobacco residue, polluting the water and harming aquatic life. Cigarette butts also are hazardous for birds and other wildlife, not to mention pets and young children if they are ingested.

Fire danger is also a compelling reason to make D.C. parks smokefree. In 2007, a discarded cigarette sparked a massive fire that burned a quarter of a 4,200-acre park in Los Angeles. That motivated the city to make all city parks smokefree.

The legislation before you

While both bills are clear in making playgrounds smokefree, we would recommend you advance Bill 20-95 because it provides for signage and is more specific.

We suggest one technical correction to this provision in Bill 20-95:

“(a) A residential home owner or tenant who resides within 25 feet of a playground or play area shall not be subject to this smoking restriction.”

Technically, this could be taken to mean that such a person could smoke in the playground itself just because he or she lives nearby. We suggest it be amended to read:

“(a) A residential home owner or tenant who resides within 25 feet of a playground or play area and who is smoking on his or her own property shall not be subject to this smoking restriction.”



For these reasons, we urge you to approve Bill 20-95 and expand it to include all D.C. parks.