- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 3, 2003

Legislation proposing a partial ban on public smoking in the District has divided the D.C. Council and put Mayor Anthony A. Williams in the hot seat for supporting the bill without a health analysis.

The mayor and seven of the 13 members of the D.C. Council are backing the bill introduced by Carol Schwartz, at-large Republican, which provides tax incentives for hospitality businesses that are smoke-free or will convert.

Co-sponsors of the bill are Democratic council members Harold Brazil, at-large; Kevin Chavous, Ward 7; Sandy Allen, Ward 8; Vincent B. Orange, Ward 5; Chairman Linda W. Cropp, at-large; and Jack Evans, Ward 2; and at-large Republican David A. Catania.

Mr. Brazil wants bars, restaurants and nightclubs exempted from the legislation, which was the subject of a hearing yesterday before the council’s Committee on Public Works and the Environment. Nearly 200 residents, health experts, and bar and restaurant owners and employees testified.

“I think Washington is blooming, with the freedom of choice. Why turn our backs on the money from the bar and restaurant industry? I commend Smokefree DC, and I think we can achieve your goal of a healthy workplace without killing our golden goose,” Mr. Brazil said.

Adrian Fenty, Ward 4 Democrat, said the bill is not thorough enough.

“The most important statistic is that the District ranks number one in cancer in the U.S. That’s why I was really offended when the mayor came out with no health analysis of the situation. To have the Department of Health not have an analysis of the [health effects] was a disservice to the citizens,” he said.

Mr. Fenty introduced legislation in September that calls for an outright ban on smoking in public places. The measure was co-sponsored by Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat, and Kathy Patterson, Ward 3 Democrat, who said yesterday that the District would start losing some meeting and convention business in a few years unless it adopts a smoke-free policy.

“You have a golden opportunity in the District to save lives. This bill would encourage people to quit smoking and children not to start,” former U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher told the committee.

But Mr. Williams said yesterday that he cannot support an outright smoking ban for bars, restaurants and nightclubs.

“I am concerned about the effect this is going to have on business, and hence on our sales-tax revenue,” he said, noting that about 10 percent of the District’s overall tax revenues come from hospitality sales.

“Waitresses and bartenders should have the same consideration as people who work in offices,” John Boardman, executive secretary-treasurer of the Hotel and Restaurant Employees Union Local 25, told The Washington Times yesterday.

“A single mother working to support her children has a right to a safe work environment,” Mr. Boardman said.

As first reported in the Times on Wednesday, 60 percent of D.C. residents would not oppose a full ban on smoking in public workplaces, according to a poll by Smokefree DC, an organization against public smoking.

Smoking in restaurants has been banned in 125 jurisdictions in the country, including California (the first, in 1988), New York City, Boston, Montgomery County and Delaware (the most recent). In the District, 169 restaurants offer smoke-free dining.

In Montgomery County, patrons are prohibited from smoking in restaurants and bars, except for those in Rockville and Gaithersburg. Bar and restaurant owners in the county have protested the law, saying the ban harms business. 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 allowed.

Last month, the Rockville City Council proposed a smoking ban to bring the city in line with the county ban.

Despite resistance from proprietors, Smokefree DC maintains that no study has proven that smoke-free laws have a negative effect on the hospitality industry.

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