A Montgomery County lawmaker is proposing a bill that would ban smoking on all county property — including parking garages and jail — as part of what she called a "filling in the gap stage" for a county that's been at the forefront of the anti-smoking movement.
At-large council member Nancy Floreen announced on her blog "Nancy At Large" that she would be introducing the bill Nov. 20.
The county already bans smoking in restaurants and bars and restricts smoking in all indoor public areas. Last summer, the county council approved a ban that bars smoking within 25 feet of outdoor playgrounds.
Ms. Floreen said that as a recent breast cancer survivor, she wanted to prevent "this awful disease in all of its forms" and recognize her responsibility as a steward "of public space and community."
"We as a community have become so accustomed to [smoking bans] that it's shocking to be in a place where smoking is the norm," Ms. Floreen said Monday. "This is not the earth-shattering effort it might have been 10 years ago."
Ms. Floreen is planning a news conference to officially announce the bill Thursday. Specific details were not available Monday, but Ms. Floreen said the proposed legislation would apply "primarily to public open spaces controlled by the county and a few other places."
This includes areas outside of municipal buildings, parking garages, the county jail, and some open space areas such as the courtyard at the Silver Spring Civic Building and outside areas of Strathmore Hall in Bethesda.
If it sounds like county leaders are attempting to make it more difficult to find a place to smoke, explained fellow council member George Leventhal, an at-large Democrat, that's because they are.
One of five co-sponsors of Ms. Floreen's proposal, Mr. Leventhal last year championed the legislation banning smoking in nonpublic places such as apartment lobbies and playgrounds.
Designated areas don't exist for smokers, Mr. Leventhal said, so instead employees or visitors to these county spaces "are hanging around outside exits." The proposal would protect nonsmokers from second-hand smoke, Mr. Leventhal said.
"It seems like a common-sense step at this point," he added.
In terms of general smoking bans, the District has a similar law to Maryland's indoor smoking restrictions, while Virginia permits smoking in public places such as grocery stores and restaurants that have clearly defined smoking sections.
Early last year, the New York City Council stamped out smoking in 1,700 city parks and on about 14 miles of public beaches.
While Montgomery County was the first Maryland jurisdiction to impose a ban on smoking in restaurants and bars, it won't be the first to ban smoking from county property.
Rita Turner, deputy director of the Center for Tobacco Regulation at the University of Maryland School of Law, said Harford and Kent counties have already put restrictions on smoking on county property.
The difference, however, is that for Harford and Kent counties, the restrictions came out of administrative action rather than new laws. In Harford County, the Department of Administration handed down restrictions that banned smoking on county property. At a Kent County commissioners meeting, County Administrator Susanne Hayman mentioned citizen complaints about smoking on county property, and commissioners told her to prohibit smoking on county property and in county vehicles and eliminate smoking breaks during the day.
Ms. Turner said county councils have the authority to regulate what happens on their property. What's interesting, she added, was that "taxpayers have a stake in the way property is managed, and that can go both ways."
"If they're a taxpayer who is a smoker, they could feel inconvenienced at not being able to smoke on county property," Ms. Turner said.
On the other hand, people visiting the county building are likely doing so because they are required — such as going to pay taxes — and they are "being exposed to second-hand smoke."
Bruce Bereano, a candy and tobacco wholesaler representative, sees it differently.
"You're creating a distinction of citizens," Mr. Bereano said. "It's just terrible. It's so offensive."
Smoking is a legal, lawful activity, the Annapolis-based attorney said, and people have the right to do it.
"I guess if you're from Montgomery County," he added, "you have to go to the moon to smoke."
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Meredith Somers is a Metro reporter for The Washington Times. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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