- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 4, 2003


   The Maryland Court of Appeals yesterday struck down a 1999 Montgomery County ban on smoking in restaurants and bars.
   County Council members responded by saying they may approve a similar regulation this summer.
   After two years of deliberation, Maryland’s highest court struck down the ban on grounds that the council passed the regulation while acting as the Board of Health and, since County Executive Douglas M. Duncan was not present at that meeting, the judges ruled that the ban was not valid.
   “Since the challenged resolution was passed by the council acting alone, it is invalid,” Judge John C. Eldridge wrote in the decision.
   The ban was never put into effect.
   Meanwhile, the council in August 2000 passed a law that allows it to act as the Board of Health — without the county executive being present at the meetings.
   The court overturned the smoking ban “on a technicality,” said Philip Andrews, Rockville Democrat, who was one of four council members who voted four years ago to approve the resolution. “I would have liked to see them uphold the issue, but I’m glad we have a decision so we can move forward. … My interpretation is that we could pass a similar measure as the Board of Health now, not subject to legal challenge.”
   Mr. Duncan, a Democrat, said yesterday he wants to work on creating some form of smoking restrictions. He has said he supports separate ventilated rooms in restaurants and bars.
   “For some time, there has been fundamental agreement in our community that there is a need for increased restrictions on smoking in restaurants,” Mr. Duncan said. “I look forward to working with the County Council to craft an appropriate law that will achieve this public health goal while withstanding any future legal challenges.”
   More than 125 cities have passed a similar ban, including New York, Los Angeles, Boston and San Francisco.
   Of the nine current council members, five favor the ban that was struck down yesterday. The council’s lone Republican, Howard A. Denis of Bethesda, supports some restrictions.
   Council President Michael L. Subin, at-large Democrat, and Marilyn J. Praisner, Silver Spring Democrat, oppose the ban.
   “Some people want to smoke, but everybody needs to breathe clean air,” Mr. Andrews said, citing health concerns as the main reason for the ban.
   Council member Mike Knapp, Germantown Democrat, did not return phone calls.
   Mr. Andrews referred to a recent study conducted in Helena, Mont., by the American College of Cardiology in Chicago that showed the health benefits of a smoke-free workplace. A 2002 British Medical Association report concluded that 1,000 citizens in Great Britain die each year from secondhand smoke.
   However, a 1998 study sponsored by the World Health Organization and conducted by the International Agency for Research on Cancer found that secondhand smoke poses no significant health risk.
   County residents’ opinions were mixed on the court’s decision and the issue of banning smoking in bars and restaurants.
   Linda Meyskens of Bethesda, whose husband Frank is director of the Cancer Center at the University of California at Irvine, said smoking should be banned in restaurants and bars.
   “I understand people feel they have their personal right to space, but you’re in a space where you’re affecting other people,” she said as she sat at the Delhi Dhaba restaurant in Bethesda.
   Others were not so convinced of the negative effects of smoking.
   “Honestly, is it actually affecting people? If I sit here and smoke is it going to kill her?” asked Shobi Siddiqui, a financial analyst from Germantown, pointing to his friend sitting next to him at Austin Grill in Bethesda.
   Some restaurant managers worry that a ban would drive customers away.
   “It definitely would affect our bar area,” said Chinaz Castillo, manager of Jaleo, a Spanish restaurant in Bethesda. “On Friday and Saturday nights the bar is packed. People want to be able to have a drink and a smoke. If we didn’t have that option, they would go elsewhere.”
   But others, including Onasis Fuentes, manager of Austin Grill, said he thought a ban would have little effect on his business. Mr. Fuentes said he was disappointed with the court’s decision. “It would have been a positive thing, but I’m only saying that because I’m a nonsmoker,” he said.
    Michelle Rothman contributed to this report.
   


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