- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 13, 2000

Don't get caught smoking outside in Friendship Heights. Don't crank up your car and leave it running in Gaithersburg. And don't even think about trying to bring a nuclear weapon into Takoma Park, which is, after all, an official "nuclear-free zone."
Welcome to Montgomery County, where an array of county and municipal rules and regulations dictate everything from where a smoker can light up to where a dog can relieve itself.
The latest law entered the books yesterday, when the Montgomery County Council gave Friendship Heights, a tiny village on the Maryland-D.C. border, the right to enforce one of the most restrictive outdoor smoking bans in the nation.
By a 5-4 vote, the panel gave the Maryland village which covers less than one square mile the right to fine repeat offenders $100 if they are caught lighting up in a public park or sodded area or on a sidewalk.
Violators will be issued a warning the first time.
The regulation, to be enforced by a security staff and accompanied by an education campaign, takes effect immediately. However, administrative details will need to be worked out, likely delaying any enforcement.
"We're doing this for public health reasons," said village Mayor Alfred Muller, who also is a physician. "We are trying to change the social norm."
Smoking is not prohibited in vehicles, residential outdoor areas or private lawns, driveways or business areas. Wisconsin and Willard avenues are not maintained by the village and are not affected.
Tobacco lobbyist Bruce Bereano said the new law makes city leaders look ridiculous. "You're making a farce out of Montgomery County," Mr. Bereano told the mayor.
The vote came four years after Friendship Heights first passed the ban. Because it is a taxing district of 5,000 residents and not a municipality, all its laws must be approved by the County Council.
Adverse reaction and a less sympathetic council prompted local officials to table the matter until this year.
County Council member Derick Berlage, Silver Spring Democrat, cast the deciding vote.
He admitted he hadn't made up his mind until hearing his Republican council colleague, Friendship Heights resident Howard Denis, make his case just prior to the vote.
Both agreed that regulations passed by smaller governments should be respected.
"The point that shouldn't be missed is that the council was being asked to overturn the decision of locally elected government and that's what today's debate was really about," Mr. Berlage said during a session break.
He added: "In reality, I think there are going to be few, and perhaps no, citations issued."
Mr. Berlage provided the deciding vote last year when the council approved a ban on smoking in all county restaurants and bars. However, that law, scheduled to take effect in 2002, was overturned recently by a Montgomery County Circuit Court judge.
Proponents of the Friendship Heights measure insist they are not out to punish smokers, but to protect them, along with those who breathe secondhand smoke.
Dr. Muller said 400,000 Americans die every year from smoking.
"The less we can encourage people to smoke, maybe get some of them to stop, the more likely we are to make a small dent in that number," he said.
Litter also is a problem, so discarding tobacco products also is now forbidden.
Cleonice Tavani, head of the Friendship Heights Village Civic Association, said she fears the vote will portray residents as extremists and could be bad for business.
Voting for the smoking ban yesterday were Mr. Denis and Mr. Berlage, along with council President Blair Ewing, Steven Silverman and Isiah Leggett, all at-large Democrats. Nancy Dacek, Germantown Republican, and Mr. Subin, at-large Democrat, along with Philip Andrews, Gaithersburg Democrat, and Marilyn Praisner, Calverton Democrat, all opposed.
Yesterday's anti-smoking vote came on the heels of a warning issued this week by Montgomery County police officials to motorists who crank their cars' ignitions and leave them idling in their driveways.
That's illegal, too, police said, and could result in a ticket.
Montgomery County Police spokesman Derek Baliles said police will begin vigorously enforcing a 51-year-old state law forbidding car idling when no one is present. The law carries a $50 fine and costs a point on a driving record.
"Operation Don't Leave it Running," according to Cpl. Baliles, begins Jan. 1 and runs to April 30.
He said patrols could be stepped up in residential areas, which will mean some residents might walk out to their driveway and find a ticket on their idling car's windshield.
Cpl. Baliles said the program is meant to remind residents that they should never leave a car running without someone in it, even if just warming the car up to melt snow and ice.
And while there was no specific incident that called for stepped-up enforcement of the law, he said police want to curb the number of stolen cars.
"There are an awful lot of cars taken," Cpl. Baliles said, noting there were 2,516 reports of car theft in 1999.
"Timewise, it takes a whole lot less time to write a citation than having to write the report for a stolen vehicle," he said.
Leaving a car running in front of a convenience store, he said, is even more inviting to criminals.
One incident calling attention to the problem of leaving an car unattended happened last month. On Nov. 30, a woman who had left her 4-year-old child in the car as she ran into a Dunkin' Donuts in Wheaton for just a moment had her car stolen.
Both the car and child were recovered shortly after the woman reported the car missing. The 25-year-old man was charged with car theft and kidnapping.
The District also has a law forbidding unattended car idling, but the law has more of an environmental purpose behind it: It's meant to cut down on emissions.
Virginia doesn't have any laws on the books banning unattended idling.
Art Spitzer, legal director of the National Capital Area American Civil Liberties Union, said it's troublesome that police would go out searching for unattended idling cars parked in a driveway.
"My own reaction is that people have better things to do with their time then go into a person's driveway," Mr. Spitzer said, adding that he doubts "if the courts would say it would violate the constitution."

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