Outdoor Restaurant Smoking Ban Begins Thursday
While supporters say county law will improve public health, some businesses are fuming
Starting Thursday, restaurants and bars in Montgomery County could face a $50 fine if they allow smoking in some outdoor dining areas.
The Council Council passed the outdoor smoking ban in March, winning praise from health advocates, but drawing opposition from some businesses.
The new law expands a 2003 law that prohibits smoking inside businesses in the county.
The Department of Health and Human Services, responsible for enforcing of the ban, will send inspectors to any restaurant that refuses to comply and give two warnings, said spokeswoman Mary Anderson. A $50 fine to the restaurant will be issued on the third offense.
“If we figure out that they’re willfully not enforcing it, we’ll issue a fine,” she said. “Our goal is not to fine establishments, but to educate them.”
Anderson said there were 30 complaints related to outdoor smoking that the department received last year, although she noted that this includes restaurants, outdoor playgrounds and multifamily apartment complexes.
Adam Zimmerman, a Rockville resident who helped the city pass a similar ban two years ago, approached the council with the idea for the ban last year, and Council member Sidney Katz sponsored the bill. It was later amended to grant exceptions to establishments with rooftops and golf courses with adjacent restaurants.
“For a lot of us parents with young kids, being able to enjoy this, when you consider that the vast majority of residents are non-smokers and you consider all the research that smoke free air does no harm, there is literally no downside,” said Zimmerman, who has two children.
Zimmerman said he has only heard positive feedback about the new law.
“It’s perfect timing right at the start of summer when outdoor dining becomes a daily occurrence,” he said.
But for smokers such as a bar owner in the county who asked not to be named, there are only a few smoker-friendly bars in the county that he likely to frequent.
“I prefer to go to the bars that allow me to smoke on the patio while I drink my beer,” he said, noting that this is limited to Caddies on Cordell, Tommy Joe’s and Flanagan’s Harp and Fiddle in Bethesda.
The bar owner was one of five smokers lighting up on the patio at Caddies earlier this week just before the dinner hour. He said he understands the rationale behind the ban, but said it will mean he will be forced to step into the street or an alley to smoke.
“It’s probably better for the environment as a whole that you can’t smoke at bars, but I don’t want the ban to take effect,” he said.
Owner Ronnie Heckman, who has testified against the bill at the council, said the new law “sucks.”
“It’s wrong. You’re telling me how to run my business,” Heckman said. “It’s going to drive more people away from the restaurant and bar business in Montgomery County.”
Rockville Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton said the opposite has been true in her city, with business increasing following their outdoor smoking ban.
“We had a fewthat raised the question, but if you look at the actual results, it hasn’t proven to be a factor at all,” she said.
Additionally, Zimmerman noted that tax revenue in the county increased after the council passed an indoor smoking ban in 2003.
“I respect where they’re coming from. They’re businesses. The good news is, they have nothing to worry about,” he said.
Dan Schere can be reached at Daniel.firstname.lastname@example.org