Compromise On Smoking

Sunday, May 29, 2005

I was a smoker for 40 years, but I have not had a puff in nearly four years. Now that I have quit, I don't like being around people when they are smoking. But I also don't like the government taking away my legal choices.

Four smoking-related bills are before the D.C. Council. Three would ban smoking in bars, restaurants and nightclubs. The fourth, my bill, encourages -- but does not mandate -- more restaurants and bars to go smoke-free.

The Smoke-Free Restaurant, Tavern and Nightclub Incentive Amendment Act of 2005 provides restaurants and bars that go smoke-free with a two-year tax credit equal to 25 percent of annual sales. Businesses that take advantage of the tax credit would have to remain smoke-free permanently or pay back the credit they receive.

In addition, my legislation requires the installation of high-performance ventilation systems (with specific standards) in any restaurant, bar or nightclub that permits smoking. It quadruples the annual business license fees for establishments that allow smoking.

Penalties for businesses that fail to enforce their smoke-free designations would be set at $200 for a first violation, $500 for a second offense and $1,000 for subsequent violations. Violators also could have their business licenses revoked.

Individuals who light up in establishments that prohibit smoking would be subject to a fine of $100; the current minimum fine is $10.

My legislation directs that, after costs, funds collected through increased license fees and penalties be used for anti-smoking and health education programs.

Our city finally has come alive. We have a vibrant nightlife and plenty of diverse venues from which to choose.

According to Smokefree D.C., the District already has 287 smoke-free restaurants and bars, but if a blanket smoking ban is implemented, some businesses won't survive, jobs will be lost and the government will lose tax revenue.

The Restaurant Association of Maryland, citing figures from the Maryland comptroller, says that since Montgomery County imposed a smoking ban a little more than a year ago, the number of liquor-licensed businesses dropped from 507 to 402. In a city in which hospitality is the number o ne industry, that statistic is worrisome, especially when competition for restaurant and bar business is just a five-minute Metro ride from the District.

Further, in jurisdictions in which smoking bans have been enacted, cigarette smokers simply step outside, thereby creating more noise and litter in the neighborhoods.

Of course, I care about the health of workers. I also care about their being able to keep their jobs or to choose where they work.

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