- The Washington Times - Monday, June 28, 2004

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Restaurant revenue in Montgomery County increased by almost $2 million in the six months after a countywide smoking ban took effect — a boon to anti-smoking advocates pushing for similar statewide bans.

“One can clearly say the restaurant industry has not been harmed by the smoke-free restaurant law,” said Montgomery County Council member Phil Andrews, Gaithersburg Democrat.

In the six months from Oct. 9, when the ban went into effect, to March, restaurant industry tax revenue increased by more than 7 percent, compared with the same period a year earlier.

“The fears we heard that this was going to devastate the restaurant industry don’t appear to be true,” said County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, a Democrat. “These early numbers are very encouraging.”

Restaurant industry officials, however, say the statistics are only the reflection of a better economy after a two-year slump.

“I hope smarter politicians won’t be fooled by the inaccuracy of this data,” said Melvin Thompson, vice president of government relations for the Restaurant Association of Maryland.

Mr. Thompson said the sales revenue numbers are less important than alcohol sales — often the most profitable item for a restaurant.

“It doesn’t matter that overall sales tax has increased because that’s mostly food,” Mr. Thompson said. “Alcohol sales is where the profits are.”

Claude Anderson, corporate operations manager of Clyde’s Restaurant Group, said the Rockville restaurant’s food sales have not been affected by the ban, but bar sales are down about 25 percent.

“I’ve had one bartender go into the mortgage business and another go back to school. It’s just not the same anymore,” Mr. Anderson said. “Everywhere else our sales are up, but in Rockville the bar business is significantly down.”

Alcohol sales across the county, however, are up for restaurants, bars and other establishments, according to the Montgomery County Department of Liquor Control. Alcohol sales increased by almost 4.5 percent, or $600,000, in the six months from October to March compared with the same period one year earlier.

Montgomery County’s results reflect those in other places that have banned smoking. In New York City, for example, sales in bars and restaurants increased 8.7 percent after its smoking ban, the city’s Department of Finance reported.

A proposal to ban smoking in Maryland’s bars and restaurants failed by a 6-5 vote in February to pass the Senate Finance Committee. But the ban’s sponsor, state Sen. Ida G. Ruben, said Montgomery County’s data will persuade the General Assembly to pass the ban.

“It’s going to help a lot,” said Mrs. Ruben, a Democrat.

“The opponents to the legislation try to make it appear the restaurants are going out of business, but that is not the case.”

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