Council considers extending the smoking ban to include public restaurants outdoor seating
By Neal Earley
ROCKVILLE — Following the precedent of Rockville, members of the Montgomery County Council are considering banning smoking in the outdoor seating areas of restaurants.
While the County Council passed a ban in 2003 on smoking inside restaurants, there is an exemption that allows people to smoke in an outdoor space if the restaurant allows it. On Tuesday, the County Council held a public hearing for Bill 35-18, which would remove that exemption.
The bill currently has four co-sponsors, Sidney Katz (D-3), Craig Rice (D-2), Hans Riemer (D-at large) and Marc Elrich (D-at large).
On Tuesday, the Council held a public hearing for the bill, where it met some opposition by business owners and smokers, but it was mostly supported by anti-smoking and health advocates, who told the Council that passing it is essential to promoting public health.
“We all have a right to clean and healthy air, and I as a County resident certainly appreciate living in a community where leaders promote and prioritize good health, and I think this bill is one way to do that,” said Adam Zimmerman, a resident of Rockville.
Zimmerman, who is an anti-smoking activist, led a push in the City of Rockville to ban smoking in outdoor areas of restaurants – law that is serving as a model for the County’s bill.
For most of the people testifying in favor of the bill, the goal of banning smoking in outdoor seating areas of restaurants is about the promotion of public health.
For Stuart Berlow, who represented the American Heart Association, and Jocelyn Collins, who spoke on behalf of the American Cancer Society Action Network, the ban is about solidifying a cultural shift against smoking that would encourage smokers to quit and protect people from inhaling unwanted smoke.
The two business owners who testified Tuesday argued that smokers are important customers in the bar business and that banning smoking in their outdoor areas would directly hurt their profit margins.
Adam Pohoryles, owner of Tommy Joe’s Bar and Grill in Bethesda, said he and his business partners would have not have set up shop in Montgomery County if they knew the Council was planning to enact legislation banning smoking in outdoor areas of its restaurant. Pohoryles asked the Council to write in an exemption for rooftop areas.
“Many customers come to Tommy Joe’s because it is an establishment that allows smoking in certain designated outdoor areas,” Pohoryles said.
Ronald Heckman, owners of Caddies on Cordell located in Bethesda, said that smokers tend to spend more on drinks at his bar, and that banning outdoor smoking areas at his restaurant would hurt his bottom line.
Heckman then called out Rice, a co-sponsor of the bill, saying he has personally seen Rice smoke cigars on the patio at his bar.
“I do know that there is a Council member here that enjoys an occasional cigar on my patio on a regular basis,” Heckman said.
Members of the panel laughed and turned toward Rice, who later responded that members of his family made him give up cigars.
“We do also have to consider the folks who want to enjoy the outdoor patio that you have, which is very nice,” Rice told Heckman.
Council member George Leventhal (D-at large), said he was “ambivalent” about the ban, adding that Zimmerman is the only constituent who complained to him about the smoking in outdoor areas of restaurants and that the ban could be solving something that is not a problem for most residents.
“It has just not been an issue that many constituents have brought to my attention, so I have to wonder whether we run this risk of over-legislating,” Leventhal said.