- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 29, 2000

It has taken four years, but the Montgomery County Council will soon determine whether a tiny village on the Maryland-D.C. border has the right to outlaw smoking in nearly all public places.

Though Friendship Heights passed the ban in 1996, its leaders anticipated rejection by the overseeing County Council and never put the issue before its members. The measure was tabled indefinitely.

Now that the face of the nine-member council has changed its newer members last year helped pass a countywide smoking ban in all restaurants and bars village Mayor Alfred Muller decided to resurrect his ordinance, one of the nation's most ambitious.

The fine for smoking or discarding tobacco products in Friendship Heights would be $100, but the intent is to warn people, not to fine them, the mayor said. A private village security force would enforce the ban.

Wisconsin and Willard avenues, the main streets through Friendship Heights, would not be affected because they are maintained by the state and county.

"There's something wrong with that," said new Friendship Heights resident Ov Rindressen, 58, one of the few smokers who could be found during lunchtime yesterday in this upper-class hamlet. "This is the first time in my life I've ever heard of something like this."

Friendship Heights a village of 5,000 that covers less than one square mile is a special taxing district and not a fully independent town; therefore, the County Council must approve all its ordinances.

The full council is scheduled to take action Dec. 12, and it appears that gaining approval of such an extreme measure could prove just as difficult now as four years ago.

Wavering council members have been unwilling so far to come down on either side of the issue. An exception, Nancy Dacek, Germantown Republican, has said the ban "goes too far."

Steven Silverman, a two-year member who is "inclined to support the proposal," said he could not predict the outcome. The at-large Democrat noted that the bill could be revised and the ban, if approved, may not be so broad.

Even if passed, the ordinance could be thrown out in the courts, as the county smoking ban was earlier this year.

Led by Dr. Muller, who also practices internal medicine and has seen firsthand the effects of smoking, the Village Council initially passed the ordinance because of public health and litter concerns. Roughly 100,000 cigarette butts are discarded on village property every year, the mayor said.

Some residents insist the ordinance would help people with illnesses such as asthma and bronchitis and would reduce teen-age smoking by giving children fewer places to smoke.

"This certainly is a goal worth striving for," said Henry Huntley, head of the Friendship Village Civic Association. "Everything that can be done helps to prevent this addiction."

But Cleonice Tavani, president of the Friendship Heights Village Civic Association and a critic of the ban, asked during an October debate whether annoyances like gum chewing and potent perfume would be the next target.

"I do not know what to make of this," Tom Humber, president of the Alexandria, Va.-based National Smokers Alliance, said in an earlier interview. "One normally assumes with legislative bodies that after four years this would be a dead issue."

Dr. Muller believes the national climate is better now for pushing the outdoor smoking ban and revived the issue at a June 12 meeting.

"I'm certainly more optimistic than the last time," he said. "If [the council members] listen to all the facts and aren't swayed by emotional outbursts, I'll be very encouraged."

Since 1996, the County Council has replaced four of its members and last year, sitting as the Board of Health, passed a vetoproof ban on smoking in all restaurants and bars in the county.

However, that ban, scheduled to take effect in 2002, was overturned in June by a Montgomery County Circuit Court judge.

The judge ruled the council's ban conflicted with state law, which allows smoking in restaurants with liquor licenses provided a special section is set aside, and that an exemption in the ban for private clubs violated the equal-protection clause of the Constitution.

County leaders have continued their hands-on approach to regulation.

This month, the council unanimously approved a bill requiring stores to keep tobacco products behind the counter and out of the hands of young people.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide