- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 14, 2005

There were some unsavory items up for debate yesterday during the D.C. Council’s Committee on Public Works and the Environment hearing. Council members had the choice between the Smokefree Workplaces Act or the Occupational Safety and Health Amendment Act. Both would broaden smoking bans by extending the city’s current definition of workplaces to include bars and restaurants. Both should be opposed as unnecessary violations of individual freedom and responsibility.

A third option — the Smoke-Free Restaurant, Tavern and Nightclub Incentive Amendment Act — introduced by Republican Council member Carol Schwartz is supposed to be a compromise since it opposes total prohibition. It’s ironic then that Mrs. Schwartz’s bill could be worse than the other two.

The bill proposes to offer tax credits to encourage District eating and drinking establishments to adopt smoke-free policies, what Mrs. Schwartz calls her “carrot.” Of course, there’s also a stick. The city has to have a way to pay for this 25 percent credit on annual sales taxes, so the Republican further proposes to quadruple the business licensing fee on smoking-friendly establishments. Actually, it’s a stick with a big metal thorn impaled at the end. In addition to the licensing fee increase, the bill would require the installation of “high-performance ventilation systems … in any restaurant, bar or nightclub where smoking is permitted.” If the Schwartz bill is a compromise, why not just ban smoking everywhere and be done with it?

As one Council member said at yesterday’s hearing, “the fact of the matter is that the District of Columbia is far more reliant on revenue from its hospitality industry than any other state I know to fund its local budget for schools, public safety, public services — everything.” Wait, that was Mrs. Schwartz herself. She went on to say that “We are also now attracting many suburbanites … We are getting their entertainment dollars, and parking revenue as well. And many of them smoke. Why would we send their dollars back to Virginia?” For someone so concerned about the District’s No. 1 industry, she seems awfully ready to tax it into oblivion.

Some 500 or so D.C. eating and drinking establishments have voluntarily imposed smoking bans. Their reasons for doing so are as varied as the patrons who keep them in business. This is how a free market works, by the way. If a bar owner believes he will attract more customers with a smoke-free environment, that’s his prerogative. The freedom of choice also extends to the patrons themselves, as well as to the employees of such businesses, both of whom can choose which places to frequent and which to work at. A better compromise to the two smoking-ban bills would be to allow the market to simply continue as it has.

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