- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 8, 2005

Most bars and restaurants in Prince George’s County will be required to be smoke-free after the first of the year after a vote by members of the County Council yesterday.

Less than four months after a smoking ban was introduced, members voted unanimously to impose it with very few exceptions.

“Families and others who go out and do not like smoking will be able to go to restaurants now that normally would be filled with smoke,” said council member Douglas J.J. Peters, Upper Marlboro Democrat.

Seven of the nine members of the council joined him as co-sponsors of the legislation when it was introduced in July.

Members reviewed a two-year report on a similar ban enacted in neighboring Montgomery County and found that patronage at bars and restaurants actually increased after the restrictions were imposed, based upon tax revenue and employment.

“The growth looked a lot like growth in other nearby counties that service an urban population,” said Bill Evans, a University of Maryland economist who conducted the study for the public-interest advocacy group, Smokefree Maryland.

The study looked at data from Howard, Prince George’s and Fairfax counties.

Bars and restaurants in Prince George’s that are not smoke-free by Jan. 1 will be in violation of the law. Owners could face fines of up to $1,000 for failing to enforce it, while patrons could be fined up to $200 per violation.

The only places exempt from the ordinance are the cigar lounge at FedEx Field, and private clubs operated by the Moose, the Elks, the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

“We are extremely disappointed. This will undoubtedly have a big impact on smaller bars and restaurants,” said Melvin Thompson, vice president of the Restaurant Association of Maryland.

No restaurant operators attended a hearing held to discuss the matter yesterday before the vote was taken.

Council members precluded consideration of measures that would allow separate accommodations and ventilation systems after environmental experts testified that such measures are ineffective, Mr. Peters said.

County Executive Jack B. Johnson, a Democrat, is expected to sign the measure into law, Mr. Peters said.

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