Montgomery County, Md. Executive Douglas M. Duncan yesterday vetoed a bill that would have allowed the county to fine homeowners and landlords for letting tobacco smoke drift into neighbors’ homes.
The County Council last week added and approved the smoking measure as part of legislation regulating indoor air pollution. Mr. Duncan said he would sign it, based on assurances that inspectors could use discretion and diplomacy to keep the smoking provision from being abused.
But yesterday he said he had become convinced that the regulation would be misused by disgruntled neighbors and would drain county resources.
“It has become clear that the tobacco smoke provisions will be nothing more than a tool to be used in squabbles between neighbors and that significant resources will be used to address these complaints,” Mr. Duncan stated in a memo to council President Blair Ewing, a fellow Democrat.
In the memo, Mr. Duncan said he would sign the bill if the council took out the smoking provision a move he urged council members to make.
They appear ready to do so. The council won’t take a vote to try to override the veto, said council spokesman Patrick Lacefield.
“Half a loaf is better than none,” Mr. Ewing said in a statement issued late yesterday. “I’m confident that we’ll back a revision of our clean-air laws that includes other indoor air pollutants.”
But Mr. Ewing said it makes no sense not to address the dangers of tobacco smoke in an indoor air-pollution bill.
He also said Mr. Duncan’s stance would leave residents unable to complain about smoke that threatens their health.
Under the bill, homeowners or landlords would have been fined $500 if they were found responsible for harmful smoke levels in someone’s home and did not remedy it. The fine would have risen to $750 if the $500 fine were ignored.
Mr. Duncan said he submitted the bill, in which he included an exemption for tobacco smoke, to strengthen the county’s authority to investigate complaints about such conditions that he said are a “serious environmental issue.”
Six of the County Council’s nine members voted for a bill for indoor air pollutants regulated under an update of the county’s clean-air law, from which the tobacco smoke exemption had been removed. Democrat Michael Subin and Republican Nancy Dacek voted against the bill, and Marilyn Praisner voted “present.”
Although environmental inspectors won’t be able to impose a $500 to $750 fine for smoke as they will be able to for other pollutants, they will continue to use education and mediation to resolve problems, Duncan spokesman David Weaver said.
Since the council approved the bill Mr. Duncan has received more than 100 calls, with an “overwhelming majority” opposing the residential secondhand smoke pollution measure, Mr. Weaver said.
Many of the callers left complaints about smoking neighbors whom they wanted investigated and included addresses, Mr. Weaver said.
County Council member Howard Denis who opposed the smoke provision in committee but voted for the bill said he urged Mr. Duncan to veto it so the council could reconsider and the issue get a full public hearing.
“I didn’t want the perfect to be the enemy of the good,” said Mr. Denis, a Republican.
Mr. Denis said he opposed the smoking provision but wanted to create authority to address indoor air pollution.
Mr. Duncan said if the council sends him back the same measure minus the smoking provision, he would sign it immediately.
James A. Caldwell, the county’s environmental protection director, said county agencies now issue only about 15 to 30 $500 fines per year.
The county has hired an industrial hygienist to address the problems of indoor-air quality, which Mr. Caldwell said are more often caused by the use of chemicals, such as paint or pesticides, too close to vulnerable people or where ventilation is poor.
Supporters of the measure cite studies that indicate pollutants, including tobacco smoke, can reach concentrations indoors that are 25 to 100 times the outdoor levels.