- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 2, 2003

A random survey funded by a group opposed to smoking in public places shows that District residents would strongly back a ban on smoking in workplaces.

The survey found that 60 percent of the 500 D.C. registered voters who participated in the poll would support an ordinance that outlaws smoking in public indoor workplaces. The survey was conducted last month by the Mellman Group Inc.

Smokefree DC, an organization that promotes smoke-free environments, announced the poll results yesterday.

The D.C. Council’s Committee on Public Works and the Environment will hold a hearing today on whether to ban smoking in workplaces, health care facilities, and bars and restaurants throughout the city.

“I’ve rarely seen an outpouring of public support for a piece of legislation like this,” said Bailus Walker Jr., chairman of Smokefree DC and an environmental and occupational professor at Howard University. “Voters recognized that exposure to secondhand smoke is a health hazard. This poll demonstrates that they want a strong law protecting their right and the right of all workers to breathe clean air.”

The survey also showed that 20 percent of those polled said they would eat out more often if smoking were prohibited in city restaurants, compared to 7 percent who said they would dine out less often.

Fifteen percent said they would frequent bars more often if smoking were banned, while 7 percent said they would go to bars less often, the survey showed.

Mr. Walker conceded that enforcement of such an ordinance would be difficult initially, but that defiance of it would eventually dwindle. “Over time, the law will become self-enforced. Just because there’s no policeman at a stop light doesn’t mean people won’t stop,” he said.

In the District, 169 restaurants already offer smoke-free dining.

Restaurants and bars in Montgomery County now prohibit patrons from smoking. County government officials say the ban is meant to protect workers and nonsmoking customers from secondhand smoke.

Bar and restaurant owners there protested the law, saying the ban would harm their businesses. Less than a month after the ban went into effect, some owners reported a sales decline of as much as 50 percent. Owners say the ban has led some smokers to patronize establishments in municipalities where smoking is still allowed.

Last month, the Rockville City Council proposed its own smoking ban to bring the city into line with the county ban.

Nationwide, 125 jurisdictions have banned smoking in restaurants, including California as the first in 1988, New York City, Boston and Delaware, the most recent.

Mr. Walker contends that any negative effect on bars and restaurants will be outweighed by what will be saved in medical expenses.

“The [economical] harm done to the hospitality industry pales in comparison to what’s spent on health care,” Mr. Walker said. “More than 154,000 [persons] were admitted to D.C. hospitals last year due to respiratory diseases caused or exacerbated by secondhand smoke.”

He said that an estimated $8.8 million in Medicare claims for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease were filed last year.

Despite resistence from proprietors, the antismoking organization maintains that no study has proven that smoke-free laws have a negative impact on the hospitality industry.

In Delaware, where a Clean Indoor Air Act passed in November 2002 prohibited smoking in all workplaces, data from the state’s Alcohol Beverage Control Commission showed that business in the hospitality industry has risen since the ban went into effect.

“In Delaware, all the hysteria was unmerited,” said Deborah Brown, director of programs and advocacy for the American Lung Association of Delaware. “Liquor consumption increased, and more restaurant, tavern and taproom licenses were issued than in the previous year. Smoke-free workplaces are not only good for the economy, but, more importantly, good for employee and customer health.”

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