- The Washington Times - Monday, June 13, 2005

The D.C. Council Committee on Public Works and the Environment is scheduled today to hold a hearing on three bills that would broaden smoking bans in city workplaces.

Two bills would extend the definition of workplaces to include bars and restaurants. One of those bills would provide an exemption for cigar bars that earn at least 10 percent of their revenue from tobacco sales.

The third bill, written by committee Chairman Carol Schwartz, would punish smoker-friendly restaurants by quadrupling the business licensing fee, which is about $550 for a two-year license. Mrs. Schwartz’s bill also would provide a two-year sales-tax credit for restaurants that voluntarily ban smoking.

Mrs. Schwartz, at-large Republican, has said she supports the idea of smoke-free restaurants, but also supports the right of business owners to allow smoking. She has blocked previous anti-smoking bills from going to a vote in the council and is expected to allow only her bill to move from the committee.

A more sweeping bill awaits consideration in September in the Health Committee, which is headed by David A. Catania, at-large independent.

The bill — written by council member Kathy Patterson, Ward 3 Democrat — would ban smoking in all public places. The only exemption would require a retail establishment to earn 75 percent of its revenue from tobacco and related products.

Bob Materazzi, owner of Shelly’s Back Room on F Street NW, said he was surprised to see a 75 percent requirement because cigar bars can’t meet it. He said tobacco sales account for only about 17 percent of Shelly’s revenue.

“We’re a cigar tavern,” he said. “Obviously, the bulk of our sales is from liquor and food, but the clientele that comes in here comes in for the cigars.”

Mr. Materazzi said Shelly’s would lose business and eventually close if Mrs. Patterson’s bill becomes law.

If a comprehensive smoking ban is enacted, the District would join an increasing number of communities across the nation that have banned indoor smoking.

Montgomery and Talbot counties in Maryland have enacted bans, and both sides of the debate have offered economic statistics supporting their side.

SmokeFree DC provides data that show a 7.6 percent increase in restaurant sales taxes in Montgomery County since its ban went into effect in October.

The Restaurant Association of Maryland says sales in bars in Talbot County declined 11 percent since the ban went into effect in April 2004 while sales in neighboring counties without bans increased as much as 39 percent.

The District’s ban, unlike those in other major cities, would lack an exemption for cigar bars. New York’s ban allowed pre-established bars such as Club Macanudo in Manhattan’s Upper East Side to stay in business.

Smokers say the absence of such exemptions is unfair.

“The government lumps all tobacco together, and we [in the cigar industry] take lumps we don’t deserve,” said David Hammerly, a Shelly’s regular who works part time at W. Curtis Draper Tobacconist on 14th Street NW.

But anti-smoking activists, such as Angela Bradbery of SmokeFree DC, defend a full smoking ban. They say bans protect the health of employees and patrons.

“Just because you own a business doesn’t mean you can set the rules and do what you want,” Miss Bradbery said.

She added that her group “[isn’t] telling anybody they cannot smoke. We’re merely asking people to step outside to protect the people around you.”

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