Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) today wrote to National Park Service (NPS) Regional Director Steve Whitesell asking NPS to further its efforts to preserve and enhance parks by banning smoking in all NPS units, including parks, sites and trails, in the District of Columbia. Norton cited United States Department of Interior Director Order #50D that provides superintendents with the authority to ban smoking in NPS units.
"Many find smoking in parks to be incompatible with enjoying the fresh air and recreation afforded by our many parks here," said Norton. "In a city with high rates of bronchitis and asthma, the parks ought to be a refuge from smoking."
D.C. residents have been working with the D.C. Council on a bill, which is currently pending before the Council, to ban smoking in the city's parks that are within 25 feet of a playground. However, NPS action is necessary because the majority of parks in the District are owned by NPS and a smoking ban in D.C. parks would have little effect in the District.
The full text of Norton's letter follows.
June 13, 2013
Dear Regional Director Whitesell:
Thank you for your continuing and important work to preserve and enhance our parks in the National Capital Region. I write today to ask you to further this effort by banning smoking in all National Park Service (NPS) units in the District of Columbia.
This issue was brought to my attention by several constituents who have expressed concerns about smoking in NPS parks in D.C. I agree with their concern that residents 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. My constituents have been working with the District of Colombia Council on a bill to ban smoking in the city's parks that are within 25 feet of a playground, and a bill to do so is currently pending before the Council (Bill 20-93, the Prohibition of Smoking Near Playground Act of 2013). As you know, however, the majority of parks in my District are owned by NPS, and thus a smoking ban in D.C. parks would have limited effect here.
We have learned from NPS staff that NPS has the authority to implement the smoking ban we are requesting. Under U.S. Department of the Interior Director Order #50D, NPS superintendents have the authority to ban smoking in NPS parks to protect the public from environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) exposure, or second-hand smoke. The official order provides that "a site manager may, at any time, close an area or facility to smoking when necessary to (a) protect park resources, (2) reduce the risk of fire, (3) protect employees and the public from ETS exposure, or (d) prevent conflicts among visitor use activities." The order also explains the harmful effects of second-hand smoke and notes the general NPS policy to "provide smoke-free environment[s]." Implementing this policy in our parks here is particularly important at a time when the D.C. population is growing by over 1,000 residents per month and when many of these residents are young parents with children. The well documented health risks associated with second-hand smoke converge with D.C.'s unfortunate number of smoking-related health risks and deaths. Our city has long benefited from our many NPS parks, and my constituents reap the benefits of¬ the nature that NPS parks provide.
I ask that you ban smoking in all NPS park units in D.C. Thank you for your attention to this matter, and I ask for an early response.
Eleanor Holmes Norton