- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 3, 2006

Local hospitality workers and business owners yesterday protested a D.C. Council bill that would ban smoking in public places.

About 50 protesters marched from Franklin Square Park to the John A. Wilson Building chanting and carrying signs that said “bans close bars.”

Frederic Harwood, executive director of the D.C. Licensed Beverage Association, said the bill’s requirement that most establishments be smoke-free by the start of next year will run many out of business.

“This is an undemocratic imposition by a group of people on another group of people,” said Mr. Harwood, who joined the protest organized to lobby council members against the ban. “This is the antithesis of a democracy.”

The council is expected today to approve the bill, which would require a ban on smoking in the dining areas of restaurants and nearly all bars. Council members approved the bill 12-1 during a first reading last month, and the bill is scheduled for a second reading today.

It is not clear whether Mayor Anthony A. Williams, a Democrat, will sign the legislation.

Mr. Williams has said he opposes a 100 percent smoking ban because it would hurt small local establishments. He also has publicly urged council members to be rewrite the legislation.

Andrew J. Kline, general counsel for the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington, yesterday said the proposed ban already may be scaring away new business.

“There are certainly people that are looking at the District and watching this very closely, as they make decisions whether to open their restaurants in the District of Columbia,” Mr. Kline said.

Mark Lee, owner of Atlas Events, an events-promotion firm that caters to homosexuals, said a ban would disproportionately hurt his business because many of his clients smoke.

“Restaurants, bars and nightclubs will see significant sustained decreases in business,” Mr. Lee said. “And to suggest otherwise is simply not true.”

The ban would allow smoking only in cigar bars, outdoor dining and club areas, retail tobacco outlets, hotel rooms and certain medical treatment or research institutions.

Council member Carol Schwartz, at-large Republican, was the only one to vote against the bill.

Angela Bradbery, a co-founder of Smokefree D.C., has called the ban “a very good first step.”

New York City passed one of the country’s most restrictive smoking bans in 2003, and Montgomery County followed suit later that year.

Prince George’s County recently enacted a similar ban, and Howard County, Md., which restricted smoking to separately ventilated areas in 1996, is considering an outright smoking ban.

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