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Hazy Views Are Rare in Debate Over Smoking Ban

By Eric M. Weiss
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 19, 2005

It takes just two words to start a fight in Flanagan's Irish Pub: smoking ban.

The customers in this basement Bethesda bar -- the few who are left -- quickly take sides on the Montgomery County ban on smoking in bars and restaurants and on whether the District should follow suit.

"Let the market decide, not the government," said Patrick Ostronic, 49, of Baltimore, relaxing with a beer during Friday's happy hour.

"Why impose your smoke on someone else?" Anthony Pricci, 24, his co-worker, shot back.

When it comes to a smoking ban, there is little middle ground.

"The smokers hate it, the nonsmokers love it," said Antoni Yelamos, a partner in the company that owns Jaleo, a tapas restaurant that straddles the smoking divide with locations in the District and Montgomery.

D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) and a majority of City Council members support a smoking ban that would include bars and restaurants, saying it would reduce secondhand smoke. Supporters say there is a good chance that a ban could be approved by the end of the year.

Opponents say that the District has nearly 200 nonsmoking restaurants and that a ban would reduce freedom of choice in the nation's capital. They also say a ban would hurt the city's vital hospitality industry.

"I'm scared," said Al Jirikowic, owner of Chief Ike's Mambo Room, a quirky and very smoky bar in Adams Morgan. "I would be breaking my contract with my customers. In the buttoned-up D.C. culture, smoking is part of the culture of relaxation and expression."

Proponents of a ban say they are not trying to stamp out fun but merely trying to protect the workers who are exposed to secondhand smoke on the job.

But few workers interviewed Friday said they asked for, or want, protection.

"It's a bar. I choose to work in a bar," said Hannah Conlon, a bartender at Madam's Organ in Adams Morgan. "I make my own decisions."

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