- The Washington Times - Monday, January 30, 2006

A smoking ban that was approved overwhelmingly earlier this month was returned unsigned to the D.C. Council yesterday, a symbolic gesture by Mayor Anthony A. Williams to show his displeasure with the extent of the measure.

The bill, approved by a veto-proof majority of 11-1, would ban smoking in virtually all restaurants, taverns and bars in the city. The only exceptions are outdoor areas, hotel guest rooms, tobacco stores and cigar bars. Eating establishments and bars could apply for a hardship waiver.

The move by Mr. Williams means the bill will become law unless both houses of Congress adopt a resolution objecting to it within 60 days, said Vince Morris, a spokesman for the mayor.

“I am unwilling to endorse the legislation in its entirety because I believe it goes too far in restricting the freedom for individuals to dine and work where they please,” Mr. Williams said. He has said that the ban goes too far and would hurt small businesses in the city.

Having voiced his objections to the measure, Mr. Williams said he would work to administer the law once it takes effect.

Restaurant dining areas will have to go smoke-free immediately once the law takes effect. Bars, taverns and the bar areas of restaurants would have until Jan. 1 to comply.

Anti-smoking advocates think the ban would improve the health of customers as well as workers in businesses where smoking has been allowed. They chided the mayor for not signing the bill.

“While we are pleased he did not veto the measure, it is disappointing that he didn’t show leadership on this vital public and worker health issue and sign the bill,” Smokefree D.C. spokeswoman Angela Bradbery said in a message posted on the organization’s Web site.

Business owners have objected to the ban, arguing that it would drive customers out of the city to Northern Virginia, where smoking still is allowed.

The ban is similar to those already in effect in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties. Owners of establishments in those areas had complained that a ban would hurt business.

However, Montgomery County officials released a report last summer that found patronage at bars and restaurants actually increased in the first six months of the county’s ban, based on tax revenue and employment figures.

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