Despite a ruling against their cause in May, the anti-smoking group Smokefree D.C. is still determined to prevent smoking in the city’s bars and restaurants.
The group was disappointed with a May ruling by Judge Mary A. Terrell to block a referendum on a citywide ban. She called it “invalid” and “improper” and explained that if the initiative were put on November’s ballot, it would hinder the city’s ability to maintain the budget by violating D.C.’s Home Rule Act.
“The judge based the decision on terrible logic. We will be appealing and we are confident that we will win,” said Smokefree D.C. co-founder Michael Tacelosky.
The group was established in 1995 and has worked to make all of the District’s bars and restaurants smoke-free.
Group officials stressed they are not just lobbying for the customers who are annoyed by second-hand smoke, but also for workers who may be harming their lungs by working in smoky environments.
“There is no other place where we say that you have to work in an environment that is harmful to your health,” Tacelosky said.
In D.C, there are nearly 200 restaurants that have voluntarily gone smoke free.
Caf? Tu O Tu, at 28th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, banned smoking inside the restaurant when it opened in June.
Manager Lara Turgay said the choice was made “because it is a very little place and we have two outdoor seating areas so smokers can smoke there. It would disturb people inside.”
In other states that have implemented the ban such as New York, California, Massachusetts, Delaware and Maine, there was initial concern that businesses would lose customers.
But Turgay said that has not been the case with her business.
“People are happy when they come in and realize that we’re non-smoking,” Turgay said.
Students have mixed opinions on the prospects of a ban.
Freshman Brendan Polmer, a smoker for a year and a half, said the ban would be good for the city.
“I don’t like when people smoke indoors because it makes everything and everyone smell for the rest of the evening,” Polmer said. “I hate coming back from a club and reeking of smoke from just being indoors. It’s really inconsiderate.”
Mark Deuble, a fourth-year law student, disagrees and said a bar just isn’t the same without smoke.
“I’ve been to New York since the ban was put in place and it fundamentally changes the environment of the bar,” he said. “I can understand for restaurants, but in bars you’re not doing anything healthy to begin with. You’d might as well put the two vices together.”
The D.C. Chamber of Commerce has not taken an official position on the issue. “We have such a large and diverse membership that would be divided on the issue,” said Brian Boyer, the organization’s director of communication. “We have a lot of members in the health care industry that would be in favor while we also have members who own restaurants and they would be opposed. Therefore, the Chamber has not taken a stance and probably will not.”
Smokefree D.C. put out a voter’s guide for last month’s City Council primaries, endorsing the candidates who have supported the initiative and criticizing those who have thwarted the group’s efforts.
The group urged its supporters to vote against three incumbent candidates – Ward 7 councilmember Kevin P. Chavous, Ward 8 councilmember Sandy Allen and at-large councilmember Harold Brazil. All three lost, though not likely because of their resistance to the smoking ban.
Brazil’s campaign manager, Darden Copeland, said he did not believe it was the government’s role to make decisions about businesses.
“(Brazil) felt that there are more important things for government to come in and regulate,” Copeland said. “It’s not for government to dictate how a small business conducts business.”
Even though the initiative will not be on the ballot this election, Tacelosky vows that the group “will be appealing and are confident that we’ll win.” The next time that the initiative could appear before voters in the D.C. area will be in 2006.