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D.C. Could Expand No-Smoking Areas To Parks, Playgrounds And Bus Stops

No-smoking signs could be popping up in many more places in D.C. in the future.
Elvert Barnes: http://www.flickr.com/photos/perspective/6009966019/
No-smoking signs could be popping up in many more places in D.C. in the future.

If you're a smoker in D.C., finding a place for your nicotine fix could soon get a lot harder.

D.C. Council member Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) said yesterday that she is considering introducing a comprehensive bill that would ban smoking within 25 feet of a playground, as well as forbid smokers from lighting up in parks and even at bus stops. At a hearing on a smoke-free measures introduced in February by one of her colleagues, Cheh said the new bill would help keep kids and adults alike safe from harmful second-hand smoke. 

Smoking has been banned in bars and restaurants since 2007, and D.C. allows building owners to post no-smoking signs at their entrances, requiring smokers to stand at least 25 feet away. Various universities have also gone smoke-free—George Washington University's campuses and American University will go smoke-free this year, while the Georgetown University Medical Center campus currently prohibits smoking.

But according to some smoke-free advocates, D.C. is still lagging behind in snuffing out the unhealthy habit. "The District needs to be a model of healthy living, a model of tobacco-free living," said Rolando Andrewn of Breathe D.C.

According to Angela Bradbery, co-founder of Smokefree D.C., 801 cities and counties in 44 states have made banned smoking in parks, while 277 cities and counties in 32 states have prohibited lighting up at transit stops. While Metro has a blanket no-smoking policy, D.C. controls the city's bus shelters, where smoking is permitted. In February Montgomery County officials expanded a smoking ban to include all county property, including bus stops and bus shelters.

Some smokers aren't happy with the possibility of new restrictions. 

"The idea that you won't encounter a single offensive odor or particle in your meander through the wide park is rather ridiculous on its face," said Graham Jenkins, a D.C. resident. "But so too is the idea that if faced with that, you can't move to another spot, or quickly pass by, or even politely ask someone to stop. There's room for everyone in our parks."

The D.C. Department of Health begs to differ. "There's simply no safe level of exposure to second-hand smoke," said Ryan Springer, deputy director of the Department of Health's Addicition Prevention and Recovery Administration.

At yesterday's hearing, the issue of enforcement arose as a possible challenge to any new prohibitions. Police officers would have to write citations for violators, and Cheh said she wouldn't expect them to police parks and playground for those lighting up. For Bradbery, though, merely posting signs would do the trick. "Signage can be good enough," she said. "Generally, smokers see the sign and abide by it."

Additionally, Cheh noted that any new smoking bans would only be in effect in city-controlled properties, and not many of the parks and circles throughout the city that are controlled by the federal government.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, in 2011 20.8 percent of D.C. residents smoked, slightly under the national median of 21.1 percent and lower than 21 states. The number of young smokers in D.C. was higher than in many states, coming in at 12.5 percent of those in grades 9-12.

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