Council targets smoking

Four D.C. Council members want to clear the air once and for all – two weeks ago, the group introduced two new bills that would make Washington a smoke-free city.

The two bills would turn all workplaces in the District, including restaurants and bars, into smoke-free establishments.

The Smoke-free Workplaces Act of 2005 would create a smoke-free setting in all enclosed public and private workplaces. If passed, the act would establish penalties for violations of regulations, councilmember Kwame Brown (D-At Large) wrote in an e-mail.

The other bill would amend a different part of the city code pertaining to the Occupational Health and Safety Act of 1988. Smoke would be added to the list of hazards that may cause death, serious physical harm, or illness to an employee and, therefore, be outlawed.

The bills have been referred to the council’s Committee on Public Works and Environment for review. After discussion, the legislation will be presented to council members for a vote.

“We are hoping to have it passed this calendar year, but do not have a

commitment yet for it to be reported out of committee,” councilmember Kathy Patterson (D-Ward 3) wrote in an e-mail.

“They are essentially the same bills as New York City,” said Jennifer Friedman of the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, a group endorsing the legislation.

New York’s 2002 Smoke Free Air Act outlawed smoking in public places and garnered public support after initial apprehension. The city’s mayor, Michael Bloomberg, has seen his popularity waver partly because of the ban.

Patterson said D.C. would suffer in the long run by not approving anti-smoking legislation this calendar year, especially since similar bills were defeated in the 2004 session. She said the public has no reason to worry about a ban.

“There are no more credible concerns given the experience of New York City and other communities whose smoking bans have been proven to have no negative (consequences),” she said.

In a statement, Friedman said a study conducted last year concluded that bars and restaurants in D.C. have up to 16 times the amount of indoor pollution compared with similar businesses in New York.

Neighboring Montgomery County Maryland has been smoke-free since October 2003. Since then, both restaurant liquor sales revenue and sales tax receipts have increased, according to county records. Most telling, however, could be the 9 percent rise in applications to open new restaurants.

Carol Joynt, owner of Nathan’s in Georgetown, said most patrons want to dine in a smoke-free environment.

“I don’t have enough tables in the dining room for those who don’t want smoking,” Joynt said.

But some Foggy Bottom restaurant employees said a smoking ban would be bad for business. Kim Smith, who works at T.G.I. Friday’s, said customers ranging from students to community members to government employees may be lost due to a smoking ban.

“Banning smoking would definitely affect business at the bar for the worse,” Smith said. “If you outlaw smoking at the bar, it will hurt our business.”

Helene Bloom, owner of Soho Tea and Coffee in Dupont Circle, also expects a smoking ban to hurt business. She also said she didn’t see the need for the law when smoke doesn’t bother members of her staff.

“A lot of our clientele are smokers, especially at night,” she said.

Proponents claim a ban would help alleviate the $224 million in annual health care costs spent in the District due to tobacco-related illnesses. Also, patrons of all ages and health conditions would be protected from the dangers of second-hand smoke, supporters said. Although non-smoking sections are prominent, some argue that ventilation technology present does not thoroughly eliminate exposure to smoke.

A spokesperson for tobacco giant Phillip Morris declined to speak with The Hatchet, citing company policy. On its Web site, the firm says smoking in certain areas around fire hazards or children is rightfully outlawed. However, the statement goes on to say “reasonable ways exist to respect the comfort and choices of both non-smoking and smoking adults” in indoor, public places.

Smokefree D.C., a group promoting clean air environments, currently lists 191 restaurants and bars in D.C. as having voluntarily banned smoking in their establishments.

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