Correction to This Article
A June 15 Metro article about support for a smoking ban in D.C. bars and restaurants said that a group known as Ban the Ban was selling T-shirts that said "Smoking is healthier than fascism." Although the T-shirts were promoted on the organization's Web site, they are sold by a third party.

Smoking Ban Gaining In D.C.

By Eric M. Weiss
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 15, 2005

D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams and a majority of the D.C. Council now support a comprehensive smoking ban in District bars and restaurants, meaning the District could go smoke-free by the end of the year.

City Administrator Robert C. Bobb said the mayor was "100 percent opposed" to a ban when it was proposed two years ago because of worries about the city's hospitality industry. Since then, the mayor has been convinced by the experiences of other jurisdictions, including New York and Montgomery County, that a smoking ban would not have a negative economic impact. Bobb testified during a 12-hour hearing of the council's Public Works and the Environment Committee.

Sensing that momentum has shifted in their favor, council members who favor a ban said yesterday that they will push to have the bill moved out of committee before the council's July 15 recess. They said nine of the 13 members support some smoking restrictions. Last year, only three council members supported a ban.

The council is considering three bills that would require that all District workplaces, including bars and restaurants, be smoke-free.

"The handwriting is on the wall," said council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), who announced support for the ban last week, rebuffing a strong anti-ban lobbying effort by some Ward 1 restaurants and bars, many of them in Adams Morgan and along U Street NW. Graham said the issue was first and foremost about public health.

Opponents said a smoking ban would be another step -- joining rules on the use of seat belts, motorcycle helmets and cell phones -- on the path toward government-as-nanny.

More than 130 witnesses signed up to testify during yesterday's hearing, including bar owners, restaurant managers, bartenders, waiters and customers.

"I mean, really, you're treating us like children," testified writer Christopher Hitchens. He recalled the conviviality of Herb White's bar on P Street NW, where writers would get discounted drinks. Hitchens, a British citizen and enthusiastic smoker, said a ban would be un-American.

Council member Carol Schwartz (R-At Large), chairman of the committee and the council's strongest opponent of a ban, said that the District is unlike other cities and states because it relies so heavily on the hospitality industry and that out-of-state competition is just a quick Metro ride away in Virginia or Prince George's County.

"It does appear this time around that the votes may be there for a total ban, regardless of what I do," Schwartz said. "And I can be circumvented. But just because you have the votes doesn't mean you can't compromise."

Schwartz has introduced a bill that would provide tax incentives for establishments to go smoke-free while requiring others to install expensive air filtration systems.

But Schwartz appears to be losing control of the issue. She bottled up the bill in her committee last session until it died. But this year, council member David A. Catania (I-At Large) has offered to move a similar smoking ban bill out of his Health Committee.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2005 The Washington Post Company