Vincent Orange hopes to ban smoking near kids’ play areas

February 20, 2013

The D.C. Council is considering banning smoking within 25 feet of a playground, school yard or outdoor play area, which would potentially outlaw smoking on hundreds of city blocks.

The bill, sponsored by council member Vincent B. Orange (D-At Large), would broaden a 2010 city law that permits private businesses and government offices to post “no smoking” signs within 25 feet of the front door of the establishment.

Orange said he introduced his bill this month after receiving complaints from parents that adults were smoking at playgrounds.

“The purpose of this act . . . is to protect the health, comfort and environment of children,” Orange said. “Children should be afforded a safe and healthy environment in which to play.”

As drafted, the restriction appears to apply only to areas with “equipment or devices intended to be used for play by minors.” But in an interview, Orange said the legislation would apply not only to public and private school playgrounds but also to all city parks.

The 25-foot buffer would be measured from the sidewalk, Orange said. Residents or tenants who live within the 25-foot boundary would be exempt so they could continue to legally smoke on their property.

In recent years, numerous counties and cities, including Howard County, have banned smoking in public parks and beaches. Still, the scope of Orange’s bill would be far-reaching in a 68-mile city that has more than 300 parks and playgrounds.

Orange’s bill is being co-sponsored by council members Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) and David Grosso (I-At Large). Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) has introduced a separate, more limited, bill that bans smoking within 25 feet of a playground but does not address “play areas.”

Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) said the council will vet both bills, but he worries that they may go too far.

“I think we should continue to look at the public health issues . . . but I also think we need to be careful that we don’t . . . in essence criminalize tobacco,” he said. “A park can be that little triangle where the bus stop is.”

Council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8), head of the Parks and Recreation Committee, said he is leaning toward opposing the proposals because he’s not sure that secondhand smoke outdoors poses a health risk.

Tim Craig is The Post’s bureau chief in Pakistan. He has also covered conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and within the District of Columbia government.
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