- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 5, 2005

The effort to ban smoking in D.C. bars and restaurants is expected to gain momentum this year with help from new D.C. Council members, said activists and lawmakers yesterday.

“We are confident we can get legislation passed through the council, especially with two new council members who campaigned on this issue,” said Renee McPhatter, director of the D.C. smoke-free campaign for the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network.

Council member Adrian M. Fenty said he plans to introduce a smoking-ban bill by the end of the month. He was optimistic about the legislation doing better than his 2003 smoking-ban bill, which died in the Public Works and Environment Committeeled by council member Carol Schwartz, at-large Republican.

“No matter what committee it gets on, it will have a substantially better chance of passing this time because the three new members support a smoke-free workplace,” said Mr. Fenty, Ward 4 Democrat.

However, Mrs. Schwartz is still chairman of the committee, which likely will work on the bill again, and remains opposed to the ban because she thinks it will hurt the hospitality industry — the District’s top moneymaker.

“The city relies on hospitality dollars, and I do not want to lose them to Virginia,” Mrs. Schwartz said yesterday.

Laws forbidding smoking in public are becoming more common throughout the country, with bans in place in California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, New York and Rhode Island. On the District’s border, Montgomery County outlawed smoking in bars and restaurants — the strictest ban in the region.

The District’s anti-smoking lobby suffered a setback last year when D.C. Superior Court Judge Mary A. Terrell blocked a referendum on the ban. The initiative’s supporters appealed to the city’s highest court, and a ruling is pending.

Still, proponents of banishing smokers from bars and restaurants are turning their attention to the new council members who took office this week.

At least five council members support a ban, including new council members Kwame R. Brown, at-large Democrat, and Vincent C. Gray, Ward 7 Democrat, who both replaced incumbents opposed to the measure.

The other new council member, Marion Barry, also replaced an incumbent opposed to the ban. Mr. Barry, Ward 8 Democrat, said yesterday that he is “for smoke-free 100 percent.”

However, he also said there might be room for compromises, such as designated smoking sections in bars and restaurants.

Smoke-free advocates say that as many as three other lawmakers on the 13-member council are amenable to a smoking ban. But proponents will not be the only ones mounting a massive lobbying effort.

“What we see is a small group of zealots who are funded by out-of-town money [and] who want to impose their values on city residents,” said Andrew J. Kline, general counsel for the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington, which opposes the ban.

Mr. Kline said the new composition of the council was not a significant concern for the association, although lobbyists would be meeting with Mr. Brown and Mr. Gray.

“Everyone is always taking shots at the hospitality industry, day in and day out,” he said. “We will continue to fight for the right of everyone to make choices.”

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