- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 13, 2003

Smokers and restaurant owners said yesterday that a proposed Montgomery County ban on smoking in restaurants and bars is governmental meddling that would drive business into nearby, smoker-friendly jurisdictions.

“It’s going to cost us, probably millions,” said Claude Andersen, director of operations for Clyde’s restaurants, which has two franchises in the county, one close to the D.C. border. “It’s going to affect our business a lot.”

Clyde’s would lose money it spent to comply with existing smoking laws, and much of the 30 percent of revenue that comes from weekend bar sales, Mr. Andersen said.

“The government should stay out of how private businesses run their organizations,” said Steve McKeown, 41, who smoked a cigarette during lunch at a Rockville Hooters restaurant. “It’s rather intrusive.”

Yesterday, five of the Montgomery County Council’s nine members introduced the ban, ensuring its passage when it comes to a vote by the full panel in July. A sixth council vote will be needed to override an expected veto by County Executive Douglas M. Duncan.

Mr. Duncan, a Democrat who vetoed a similar bill four years ago, said in a statement yesterday that he wants to work with the council to “craft an appropriate law that will increase restrictions on smoking in restaurants.” He said he will “continue to keep an open mind” about how to do that.

The county’s proposed smoking ban would extend to outside seating areas and private clubs, which would make it among the country’s strictest. More than 125 jurisdictions nationwide, including New York City, Los Angeles and Boston, have banned smoking in restaurants.

The bill was introduced after the Court of Appeals — Maryland’s highest court — upheld on May 2 a ruling against the county’s 1999 anti-smoking resolution. The county council had passed the anti-smoking bill that year, which Mr. Duncan then vetoed. The council later convened as the county Board of Health and passed a resolution against smoking, an action that could not be vetoed by the county executive.

Several county restaurants filed a lawsuit against the ban, and in June 2000, a circuit court judge ruled that the council could not act as the Board of Health without the county executive. The Court of Appeals upheld that ruling.

The council passed a law in 2000 allowing it to act as the Board of Health without the executive, meaning the panel can again approve an anti-smoking resolution without worrying about Mr. Duncan’s veto.

The proposed ban will be the subject of a public hearing June 12. Health officials estimate that 12 percent of county residents are smokers.

Some residents yesterday discussed the presumed health benefits of a smoking ban, but others said it would infringe on their rights.

Patricia Bryce, 49, who smoked during lunch in a Bennigans bar booth with a friend, said she would begin eating take-out more often if the ban goes into effect.

“It’s enjoyable to come and have a cigarette, while you wait for your meal and afterwards. At work, you have to go outside,” Mrs. Bryce said. “I don’t like the smell of booze, but I don’t tell people to stop drinking.”

Mike McNeil, vice president of marketing for Hooters, said the ban would be “one more step to the abolishing of individual freedoms.”

“Next, they’re going to be telling people what to eat,” he said. “People still have to eat; that’s the good thing.”

Council members have said there is a consensus among residents for stricter regulation of smoking and that it reiterates their determination to eliminate secondhand smoke.

“This bill is necessary to the public health. It’s reasonable and effective,” said Phil Andrews, Rockville Democrat and the bill’s chief sponsor.

Some studies have shown that secondhand smoke can cause cancer. However, a 1998 study, sponsored by the World Health Organization and conducted by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, found no statistically significant risk from secondhand smoke. In addition, a U.S. District Court ruled in 1998 that the Environmental Protection Agency had erred in declaring secondhand smoke a danger in a landmark 1993 report.

Council member George Leventhal, at-large Democrat, talked about how a group of smokers had inconvenienced his family and him recently, forcing them to switch tables. He dismissed the idea that the law would hurt restaurant business.

“Smokers still need to eat,” Mr. Leventhal said.

However, the New York Post reported Monday that of 50 New York City restaurants surveyed, 34 reported slow business since the smoking ban there took effect in April. The ban in Boston took effect earlier this month.

Plaintiffs in the 1999 lawsuit said a new ban would be challenged in court.

“We’re going to fight through whatever legal means we can,” said Selby Scaggs, owner of the Anchor Inn Seafood Restaurant, who represented restaurants involved in the lawsuit.

Some smokers, however, said the ban might help them break the habit.

“I promised God and my wife that I would stop,” said Abdelillah Lechhe, 40, sitting at the Hooters bar with a pack of Marlboro Lights. “My baby is on the way. This is my last pack.”

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