D.C. Smoking Ban Approved

Angela Bradbery, a co-founder of Smokefree DC, celebrates D.C. Council vote.
Angela Bradbery, a co-founder of Smokefree DC, celebrates D.C. Council vote. (By Lucian Perkins -- The Washington Post)
By Eric M. Weiss
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 5, 2006

The D.C. Council gave final approval yesterday to a broad ban on smoking in bars, restaurants and other public places, voting 11 to 1 to add the nation's capital to a growing list of smoke-free cities and states.

Although Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) continued to voice concerns about the measure's effect on small businesses and the city's hospitality industry, the overwhelming support on the council suggested that the ban's proponents have enough votes to override a mayoral veto.

The District's smoking ban, modeled closely on New York City's, would apply immediately to all restaurant dining rooms and would be extended to bars, nightclubs, taverns and the bar areas of restaurants in January 2007.

National anti-smoking activists hailed the vote, saying that having the nation's capital go smoke-free carries great symbolic importance. "It puts an exclamation point on what we see as a national trend," said Daniel Smith, vice president of government affairs for the American Cancer Society.

Several bar owners and employees reacted with dismay.

"Oh, man, it's gonna hurt," said Rob Klein, the bartender at Chief Ike's Mambo Room, a bar in Adams Morgan. "It's going to take people away from my bar stools, and that's how I pay my rent."

Geoff Tracy, owner of Chef Geoff's, said that the dining areas in his two District restaurants have always been smoke-free but that he expects his bar business to drop by 5 to 10 percent when the full ban goes into effect.

A New York government study showed that the city's bar and restaurant industry was thriving one year after its ban was enacted in March 2003. And in Massachusetts, the Harvard School of Public Health found little or no change in bar and restaurant patronage or tax collections after that state's ban was put in place in July 2004.

Williams has 10 days to decide whether to veto the bill. He said yesterday that he is considering a veto, despite the likelihood that the council would override it. "You're talking about a lot of people's livelihoods, and I don't think we should take that for granted," he said.

Bans are in place in at least 10 states, including California and New York. Locally, Montgomery and Prince George's counties have bans, and Howard County Council members voted this week to prohibit smoking in new restaurants and bars.

The District bill would include exemptions for outdoor areas, hotel rooms, retail tobacco outlets and cigar bars. The measure also would provide an economic-hardship waiver for businesses that demonstrate a "significant negative impact."

Council member Carol Schwartz (R-At Large) cast the dissenting vote. Council member Sharon Ambrose (D-Ward 6) was absent.

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