- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 5, 2003

Anti-smoking advocates are calling on all owners of restaurants and bars in the District to make their establishments smoke-free.

The advocates, most of whom are volunteers at a community-based group called Smokefree D.C., have begun an on-line petition that has collected 700 signatures from patrons who want to dine in smoke-free establishments.

“Second-hand smoke is a public health issue. It can cause heart disease and lung cancer,” said Angela Bradbery, who began the effort late last summer. “The [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] reports that only 20.8 percent of the D.C. population smokes, so it seems like a no-brainer to me.”

More than 125 jurisdictions nationwide, including New York City, Los Angeles and Boston, have banned smoking in restaurants. This week, the Montgomery County Council passed a bill to prohibit smoking in all public bars and restaurants. County Executive Douglas M. Duncan has 14 days to sign or veto the ban.

The D.C. group’s Web site, Smokefreedc.org, lists the 169 restaurants in the District that offer smoke-free dining. The list includes McDonald’s, Starbucks and Taco Bell, and other restaurants like Pizzeria Paradiso and American City Diner, both in Northwest.

“We feel it would hinder our business if we filled the place with smokers in here,” said Maxwell Hessman, manager of Pizzeria Paradiso in DuPont Circle. The small restaurant, which seats about 40, has been smoke-free since 1991.

Owners of the American City Diner cited the establishment’s size as the reason why it’s smoke-free.

“Since 1988 we have been smoke-free, and as far as I know, we were the first to do that,” owner Jeffrey Gildenhorn said. “We don’t ever get any complaints about it.”

But some owners said they would not support a smoking ban.

Frank Hughes, general manager at Ireland’s Four Provinces Restaurant and Pub in Cleveland Park — which has smoking and non-smoking sections — said he would oppose a ban because it would hurt his business.

“I don’t agree with the idea of making us all smoke-free,” he said. “Smoking is still legal, until they make it illegal … and when people drink they like to smoke.”

Mike “Tac” Tacelosky has been leading the efforts to make the District smoke-free since he moved here from California in 1995. He calls second-hand smoke “a work-place hazard.”

“No one should have to breathe second-hand smoke in order to have a job,” Mr. Tacelosky said. “I feel very strongly about that.”

Miss Bradbery agreed. “I can get up and leave a restaurant if I want, but the person behind the counter can’t.”

John Tinpe, owner of Burma Restaurant in the District’s Chinatown neighborhood, said he decided to make his establishment smoke-free two years ago because most of his staff did not smoke.

“We have found that more and more people, including most of our staff, are not smokers. We did not feel it would be fair to them to have to work in that sort of environment,” Mr. Tinpe said.

Mike Gugat, a California native who will move to the District later this year, signed the petition because he feels strongly about the issue.

“Knowing how dangerous smoking is, I can’t believe that we allow people to continue to do this in public places,” Mr. Gugat said. “In the past, people would tiptoe around their displeasure with second-hand smoke, but I don’t think that is the case anymore as people are becoming more aware of the harm of second-hand smoke.”

Tobacco, which was the country’s first export, has seen a dramatic drop in production in recent years. This past year produced the smallest crop since 1874, according to the U.S. Agriculture Department.

Experts attribute the drop to a greater awareness of the effects of smoking and the numerous lawsuits that have been filed against tobacco companies in recent years.

Mr. Tacelosky said the organization’s goal is to get lawmakers to pass legislation that would bar smoking in public places. He said the group still has a long way to go to gain support from public officials.

“We still don’t have support in the D.C. Council, but we are working hard to educate people now, so that down the road everyone will know,” he said.

Michel Dumas, manager of Trattoria Liliana in Van Ness, said he doesn’t believe the smoke-free approach will be welcomed by all establishments, even though it works well at his.

“I don’t think that would fly everywhere here because D.C. is not Montgomery County,” Mr. Dumas said. “People like to smoke when they go out and should be given options.”

Mr. Gildenhorn agreed. “Cigarettes, lobster and alcohol all go together,” he said. “Smoke-free works in family places like here and McDonald’s, but I don’t think it would work at restaurants and bars downtown.”

But Miss Bradbery said there is little difference between the non-smoking and the smoking sections in restaurants. “There is no such thing as a ‘non-smoking’ section. This is the same thing as saying we have a [urination]-section of the pool and a non-[urination] section of the pool. It all circulates,” she said.

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