- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 21, 2004

Bartenders and waitresses in Gaithersburg, where a smoking ban takes effect today, said yesterday they are most worried about a decrease in sales, much like their counterparts saw in other jurisdictions that have banned smoking.

“It’s bad for me because I lose money,” said Sonny, a bartender at Summit Station restaurant and brewery who declined to give his last name. “This is your neighborhood, corner bar. It’s working-class, and most of my regulars smoke.”

The city’s estimated that 52,600 residents seem as divided on the issue as their council members were March 1 when they approved the ban by a 3-2 vote. Supporters and opponents of the ban say the mayor and council members can expect payback at the polls.

The ban’s advocates herald its health benefits.

“Smoking is unhealthy, and I don’t want my children exposed to it,” said Madeline Oler, a mortgage banker with three school-age children. “You will find that most parents are against smoking in restaurants, even if they smoke themselves.”

But smokers, restaurant workers and even some nonsmoking parents complain that the government has trampled people’s rights and chased away restaurant customers.

“It is government interference in people’s lives,” said Cindy Tilton, a mother of four who works as a project manager for a development consulting firm. “I don’t smoke, but I believe those who do should be able to. A smoking section is fine with me.”

Per O. Saether, a longtime Gaithersburg resident sitting at the counter at Harry’s Leaning Tower pizzeria yesterday, said he opposes the ban even though he hasn’t had a cigarette in a decade.

“I think it is wrong for people or the government to tell you what to do,” said Mr. Saether, 63. “If that’s how it is going to be, we should all get red passports and call ourselves socialists.”

Gaithersburg’s smoking ban follows a similar measure imposed in all unincorporated areas of Montgomery County last year and in Rockville on Feb. 1. Poolesville and Kensington have not adopted smoking bans.

Restaurants and bars in Gaithersburg that have enclosed nonsmoking sections with a separate ventilation system were granted a one-year reprieve from the ban. The exception affects about 10 establishments, but they will go smoke-free next year, too.

Montgomery County’s antismoking law is by far the strictest in Maryland. By comparison, Howard County prohibits smoking in restaurants but allows smoking in enclosed bars.

Still, prohibitions against smoking in public are becoming more common throughout the country. In the Washington area, smoking bans are under consideration in the District, Baltimore and Anne Arundel County.

More than 125 cities — including Boston, Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco — have imposed smoking bans similar to the one in Gaithersburg.

Maryland state Sen. Ida G. Ruben, Montgomery County Democrat, is spearheading a statewide ban on smoking in restaurants, but the move has not gained traction in the current General Assembly session, which adjourns April 12. If Maryland adopts a ban, it would follow California, Delaware, Maine and Massachusetts.

Harry E. Mulinix, owner of Harry’s Leaning Tower, said the ban will cost him between 15 percent and 20 percent of his business because customers will not linger at the bar or in the pizzeria’s pool hall if they can’t smoke.

Since the Montgomery County ban took effect Oct. 9, the Buffalo Wings and Beer restaurants have suffered losses of between 30 percent and 45 percent at locations in Silver Spring and in Cloverly, said the chain’s creator and owner, Ira D. Levy.

Mr. Levy has halted expansion plans, cut employees’ hours and cut staff through attrition.

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