- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Yesterday, unions and other proponents began pushing pending legislation that would ban smoking in public and private work places in the District. While smoking bans in New York and other cities mostly target bars and eating establishments, the D.C. bill means that cabbies could not smoke in their own taxis, whether they have a passenger or not, and that anyone who employs someone in their private residence — as a nanny, housekeeper, handyman, etc. — would be prohibited from smoking in their own home. This nonsense must be stopped in its track.

The Smokefree Workplaces Act of 2003 was introduced in September by Council members Adrian Fenty and Kathy Patterson, and has picked up another council supporter, Phil Mendelson. All three are Democrats, and as lawmakers they represent the city’s major business corridors — K Street, as well as Connecticut, Georgia, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin Avenues. Of the three lawmakers, only Mr. Fenty is up for re-election in 2004 (a fact the unions are mindful of).

The law is unnecessary. Smoking already is barred in federal facilities, and the D.C. government has prohibited smoking in city-owned buildings for several years. Many private businesses long ago banned smoking. And even smokers appreciate laws prohibiting them from lighting up in hospitals and other health-care facilities.

The D.C. legislation, however, goes too far, stifling free choice, invading privacy and threatening the free market. It would force businesses and homeowners to post “No Smoking” signs and remove “ashtrays and other smoking paraphernalia.” If that latter isn’t presumed to be a privacy issue, we pose this question: What to do with such family heirlooms as great-grandfather’s humidor or that antique spittoon?

The dollars and sense speak for themselves. Of the estimated 1,970 food and beverage establishments in Washington, the city reeled in $160 million in sales taxes last year, with hotels and their bars alone contributing an estimated $122 million. “Our position is that it should be a question of freedom of choice, not something that should be legislated,” the president of the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington, Lynn Breaux, told The Washington Post.

Spokesmen for the Metropolitan Washington Council AFL-CIO, Hotel and Restaurant Workers Local 25 and the American Federation of Government Employees said yesterday that an overwhelming majority of the 13-member council supports the bill. The chairman of the Public Works Committee, Republican Carol Schwartz, has said she opposes the bill. The Williams administration is still looking at the legislation.

Businesses are finally recovering from September 11, while tax revenues remain uncertain because of the national economy. This legislation isn’t even worth salvaging.

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