Williams set to decide on smoking ban

D.C.’s fate seems certain – the capital city will soon join numerous other municipalities across the country in outlawing smoking in bars, restaurants and other public places.

The D.C. City Council voted 11 to 1 to pass a comprehensive ban on smoking in indoor workplaces Jan. 4. If signed by D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams, the ban would apply immediately only to restaurant dining rooms. It would apply January 2007 to bars, nightclubs, taverns and the bar areas of restaurants.

Vincent Morris, Williams’ press secretary, told The Hatchet that as of last week the mayor has 10 business days to veto or sign the bill. Williams, a non-smoker, is said to be considering vetoing the bill because he believes the ban will hurt the District’s small businesses and hospitality industry. Even if he vetoes the ban, the council has enough votes to override it.

“The mayor thinks the council has gone too far, putting our economy and our vital hospitality industry at risk,” Morris said.

Angela Bradbury, spokeswoman and co-founder of SmokeFreeDC, a District-based lobbying group, said that a mayoral veto would send the bill back to the council for 30 days for a required nine-vote override. If the mayor signs the bill, or is superseded by the council, the bill would still be subject to a 30-day review by Congress, which has the ultimate say over legislation passed by the District. If the mayor vetoes the bill and the council cannot get enough votes to override it, the legislation is killed. The deadline for the mayor’s signature or veto is Jan. 30, Bradbury said.

The smoking ban issue has been debated by council members for almost two years. The full council vote on the ban earlier this month was fueled by the American Cancer Society and other local smoke-free interest groups working to rid major cities of second-hand smoke and its effect on employees.

“It’s the will of the people in the District,” Bradbury said.

Bradbury said that according to an American Cancer Society-sponsored poll of likely voters, more than 75 percent of D.C. residents are in support of an all-inclusive ban.

“We were pleased about the council’s vote, but we still have work to do,” she said, adding that she will continue to follow the bill closely. “We still want faster implementation and the waiver provisions tightened to make sure the exemptions won’t be abused.”

Despite Williams’ concerns, employees at Lindy’s Red Lion Restaurant & Bar located at 21st and I streets on campus seemed unfazed about the ban’s likely implementation, but nearby T.G.I. Friday’s has expressed opposition to the plan in the past.

Opponents of the ban believe Washingtonians will travel outside of the District to the suburbs in Virginia or Maryland that have not yet enacted smoking bans.

“It’s going to affect everyone, so I’m not worried,” said Russ Glen, manager of Lindy’s. “It’s not like they’re going somewhere else (in the city) to smoke, and going outside D.C. is a long way for lunch.”

While many GW students said that it would only be a minor inconvenience to step outside of a bar or restaurant to smoke due to the ban, some said a smokeless bar would ruin the ambiance of a night out.

“When you go to a bar you go for a specific atmosphere – cloudy, smoke-filled rooms with a lot of wasted people,” sophomore and smoker Larisa Skuthan added. “Smoking is a huge part of a smoker’s social life. Sharing a light or just starting up conversations, it’s a way to meet different people. There are better ways to solve the health problems.”

Junior Sarah Waldrop, a smoker, said the ban is breach of civil and corporate rights.

“It’s another instance of government stepping over private businesses,” she said. “Smoking is a right that a private business should be able to hold and decide for themselves.”

Other GW students were ambivalent about the bill and think it would have few harmful effects.

“The ban won’t stop smokers from smoking or people from eating so it’s only good,” said non-smoking junior Tammy Berg.

“I’m from California where you can’t smoke at bus stops or within 20 feet of a public establishment, so it’s not a big deal,” said sophomore Christine Doelling, a non-smoker.

Morris, Williams’ press secretary, said the mayor has been trying to persuade the council into amending the bill to limit the ban only to malls, offices and restaurants, while exempting bars. Because of an exemption, most hotel rooms, retail tobacco, outlets and cigar and hookah bars would not be affected by the law. There is also an economic-hardship waiver included to exempt businesses that demonstrate a “significant negative impact.”

Neighboring Montgomery and Prince George’s counties in Maryland have passed similar bans. Also, with this month’s addition of New Jersey, 11 states nationwide have now enacted some form of anti-smoking legislation.

Numerous studies comparing revenue and excise tax collections before and after a smoking ban’s implementation have shown no conclusive adverse effects, and sometimes even positive economic upshots, ban supporters said. The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids indicates that “81 localities in six states have consistently demonstrated that ordinances restricting smoking in restaurants had no effect on restaurant revenues.”

The mayor believes that D.C.’s situation is unique.

“The favorable economic evidence from a ban in other localities has no correlation to D.C.,” Morris said. “You can’t compare it to our scene because D.C. is unlike any other city.”

Jack Evans, city council member for Ward 2, which includes Foggy Bottom, voted in favor of the ban. Ruth Werner, a legislative analyst under Evans, said the councilman supports a smoke-free workplace. Council member Carol Schwartz (R-At Large) cast the only dissenting vote earlier this month, and council member Sharon Ambrose (D-Ward 6) was absent.

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