- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The District’s ban on smoking in restaurants and bars has been in effect for more than a year, but no one has been cited for violating it.

The city’s Department of Health hasn’t established a system to issue fines to establishments that violate the ban on smoking in workplaces, according to public information officer Sybil Bowick.

A spokesman for the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD), which also has the authority to enforce the law, said he wasn’t aware of any fines issued by his department, either.

Creating a system to issue fines requires public input and D.C. Council approval. That process isn’t expected to be completed until late spring or early summer, Ms. Bowick said. The amount of the fine has yet to be determined.

“While we’ve been working toward setting up the civil fines, we’ve been effectively enforcing [the law] through our collaboration with MPD,” Ms. Bowick said.



Of course, just because no fines have been issued doesn’t mean the law hasn’t been violated.

Bonita R. McGee, a public health analyst at the D.C. Tobacco Control Program within the Department of Health, said the office has received about 66 phone calls and e-mails complaining about businesses that have violated the law. The office has distributed about 150 letters, many of them early last year, warning businesses they could be in violation of the law.

The Department of Health quickly responded to any complaints filed by Smokefree DC, an organization that aggressively pushed for the smoking ban, said co-founder Angela Bradbery.

“We’ve gotten a handful of reports of violations,” Ms. Bradbery said. “We alerted the Department of Health, and they had an inspector over to talk to the manager. They sorted it out.”

There have been few problems, she said.

“It would be nice if they had [the fine system] in effect, but they haven’t really needed it,” she said.

The ban was passed by the D.C. Council two years ago. The law went into effect for most workplaces in April 2006 and for restaurants with bars in January 2007.

Since then, 14 businesses have applied for exemptions to the ban, and five have been granted. Only one business, Aroma, on Connecticut Avenue Northwest, applied for an economic-hardship waiver and received it.

The Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington says restaurants have felt the pinch since smokers were exiled.

“As predicted, it’s had the biggest impact on more bar-oriented establishments, particularly sports bars, pool places and dancing establishments,” said Andrew J. Kline, general counsel for the organization.

Restaurants also are getting many complaints about people gathering in front of restaurants to smoke, bothering neighbors, Mr. Kline said.

Others say the effect has been difficult to measure.

“It hurt us in the early months at lunch, but I don’t think it was lasting,” said Paul Meagher, manager of the Hawk ‘n’ Dove on Capitol Hill.

He said business has been slower the last four months of the year, but he blamed that on the economy, Washingtonians leaving to work on presidential campaigns, and the rise of homeowners buying big-screen TVs, which used to attract customers to the bar.

The staff is happy with the law, he said.

“You don’t have to empty the ashtrays and clean up all the cigarette butts inside. It’s a cleaner place,” he said.

Others say there has been a positive response to the ban.

“A good number of comments are actually very positive,” said Ms. McGee of the Department of Health. “Some people are very pleased that they can go to a restaurant — and some say they go more because they can take their family and don’t have to worry about smoke.”

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