- The Washington Times - Friday, June 17, 2005

The majority of D.C. Council members have said they are open to exempting cigar bars from legislation that would ban smoking in all public places, including restaurants and bars.

At least nine of the council’s 13 members have expressed openness to a cigar-bar exemption after a public hearing on three anti-smoking bills this week. A bill introduced by council member Kwame Brown, at-large Democrat, would exempt bars that earn at least 10 percent of their revenue from tobacco sales.

But council member Carol Schwartz is expected to prevent the legislation from leaving her committee. Mrs. Schwartz, at-large Republican and chairwoman of the public works committee that is considering the bills, has said she does not support a smoking ban of any kind.

A fourth bill awaits consideration in the health committee, which is headed by David A. Catania, at-large independent.

Written by council member Kathy Patterson, Ward 3 Democrat, the bill does not include an exemption for cigar bars. It would exempt retail establishments that earn 75 percent of their revenue from tobacco and related products.

Mrs. Patterson and fellow members Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat, Sharon Ambrose, Ward 6 Democrat, and Vincent Gray, Ward 7 Democrat, have co-sponsored Mr. Brown’s bill. She said she would prefer not to exempt any business but is “open to looking at that issue.”

Owners and patrons of cigar taverns have said a comprehensive smoking ban would put those establishments out of business.

Mr. Brown and fellow Democrats Vincent B. Orange Sr. of Ward 5, Marion Barry of Ward 8 and Jim Graham of Ward 1 have said they support and will pursue a cigar-bar exemption.

“The one principle that I want to keep definitely in mind is that I’m not in favor of prohibition,” Mr. Graham said. “If you’d shut down cigar bars, that is a form of prohibition.”

Mr. Graham said he wants to make the exemption very tight to avoid creating “a loophole you could drive a truck through.”

Mr. Brown said he modeled his bill after the ban enacted in New York City.

“What’s good for New York City is good for D.C.,” he said, adding that he didn’t want to put cigar-based establishments out of business.

“People go there to smoke cigars, waiters work there because they like them,” he said. “I would like to see [an exemption] because we’ve had many people express concerns about it, local businesses. Hopefully, others will see it the same way.”

Council member Adrian M. Fenty, Ward 4 Democrat, opposes all exemptions.

“No matter what factors come into play, the No. 1 issue has got to be reducing the risk to workers from secondhand smoke, and that is the priority,” he said.

Michael Tacelosky, co-founder of SmokeFree D.C., a nonprofit group advocating for a smoking ban, agreed with Mr. Fenty.

“We consistently believe that there should be no exemptions,” he said. “We don’t support a place where a worker, whether they want to or not, is exposed to a known carcinogen or toxin.”

Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp, at-large Democrat and member Jack Evans, Ward 2 Democrat, were undecided.


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