- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 1, 2003

The Montgomery County Council yesterday passed a bill to prohibit smoking in all public bars and restaurants, rejecting a two-year delay that would have given businesses time to prepare for the ban.

The council voted 8-1 to approve the bill that creates the region’s toughest nonsmoking policy. The ban does not apply to outdoor dining areas or private clubs.

“This is the right thing to do,” said council member George Leventhal, at-large Democrat who voted for the bill. “The council overwhelmingly voted for it. It’s an issue of protecting the public health. … We already have inspectors inspecting restaurants for roach infestation and their permits are revoked if we find a single cockroach. Second-hand smoke is more serious than roaches.”

Marilyn J. Praisner, Silver Spring Democrat, was the only council member to vote against the ban.

The council voted 6-3 against an amendment by council member Steve Silverman that would have made the law effective July 1, 2005.

County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, a Democrat, has 14 days to sign or veto the ban. If he vetoes it, the council will likely override it. The council must have six votes to override a veto.

The bill would become law 91 days after Mr. Duncan signs it. Montgomery County will join the growing list of anti-smoking jurisdictions that includes New York City, California, Maine and Delaware.

Yesterday, Mr. Duncan did not indicate whether he will sign the bill, saying only he looked forward to reviewing it.

“There is little dispute that second-hand smoke poses a threat to the health of individuals who are subjected to it, and I have supported efforts to provide better protection from second-hand smoke for restaurant patrons and employees,” Mr. Duncan said in a written statement.

The original bill banning smoking passed by a 5-4 vote in 1999 and was vetoed by Mr. Duncan.

The council then convened as the Board of Health and passed a resolution banning smoking, outside the executive’s veto power.

But several Montgomery County restaurants, including the Anchor Inn in Wheaton, filed a lawsuit against the county.

In June 2000, a circuit court judge ruled that the council could not act as the Board of Health without the county executive present. On May 1, a Maryland Court of Appeals judge upheld that ruling, which covered just the 1999 case. Also in 2000, the council passed a law stating it could act as the Board of Health without the county executive present.

Mr. Duncan has supported a law requiring separate ventilated rooms in restaurants and bars. But he said he is keeping an “open mind” toward the current bill.

Many restaurant owners have said they’ve already invested in expensive ventilation systems to comply with current law. Council members unanimously passed an amendment allocating funds to businesses likely to be hard-hit by the ban.

Anchor Inn owner Selby Scaggs, who also is vice president of the Restaurant Association of Maryland, was not available to comment yesterday.

John McManus, owner of the Barking Dog pub in Bethesda and several bars in Falls Church and Capitol Hill, said he would gladly join another lawsuit. “I’ve got a lot of dough saved up. I’d be more than willing to get in on that.”

Council member Nancy Floreen, at-large Democrat and the bill’s principal sponsor, said she expects nonsmokers from throughout the Washington area to flock to Montgomery County restaurants so they could eat in a smoke-free environment.

However, most restaurant owners disagreed.

They said they will lose business because those patrons who want to smoke can go to another county, the District or Virginia where there are not smoking bans.

“I honestly don’t believe many county residents would support this ban if they fully understand the financial ramifications for the county and the effect on freedoms,” Mr. McManus said.

“What’s to prevent the county from saying, ‘Drinking’s bad for you, so we’re going to limit each person to one drink an hour. I know that’s an extreme but it’s a slippery slope,” he said.

“You can stand on the sidewalk and breathe in noxious fumes from buses and cars, but you can’t sit on a roof deck and smoke a cigarette.”

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide