May 23, 2017 at 3:40 PM
by Bill Turque
The Rockville City Council voted 4 to 1 Monday night to prohibit smoking or vaping in open-air sections of restaurants and bars, becoming the second Maryland locality — for now — to mandate smoke-free outdoor drinking and dining.
Rockville joined La Plata in Charles County and more than 230 other jurisdictions and four states nationwide in passing the ban. Neither the District nor Virginia has passed such legislation.
"I think this is an important step for public health in Rockville," said Council member Julie Palakovich Carr, who sponsored the measure.
Adam Zimmerman, the Rockville resident who lobbied the city and organized support for the ban, said he intends to launch a similar effort that would impact all of Montgomery County — Maryland's largest jurisdiction, with nearly 1 million residents.
"Rockville, being the county seat, has asserted its leadership," said Zimmerman, a communications consultant who became interested in the issue because he was concerned about his two small children breathing secondhand smoke on Rockville Town Square. "I'm hopeful and confident that we can extend these sorts of protections to a broader base."
Zimmerman said he was drafting an email to members of the council.
Montgomery County Council President Roger Berliner (D-Potomac-Bethesda) said Tuesday that there has been no conversation among members so far about expanding the existing county ban on smoking inside bars and restaurants.
"I am sure once we see whatever written communication there is, we will begin discussing it," Berliner said. He added that it was useful to have the city of Rockville move forward on the issue "so that we can see exactly what the impact is."
The Rockville ordinance passed with little discussion. The one dissenting vote was cast by Council member Mark Pierzchala, who said the bill represented "government overreach" and posed the risk of "unintended consequences," such as forcing smokers into other areas of the city.
After casting his vote, Pierzchala read a supportive email he said that he had sent to Zimmerman.
Pierzchala said his mother was a longtime smoker who quit, a decision he says has probably helped her reach the age of 90. He said he has never smoked and called smoking "disgusting."
But, he said: "Smoking is a legal activity. Tobacco is a legal drug."
The proposal drew only scattered opposition when it was introduced earlier this year. Two restaurant proprietors on Rockville Town Square said that their businesses already suffered from excessive regulation, and that city government had more important issues to address. The owner of a Rockville Pike hookah lounge said his business was unfairly included in the ban.
While smoking inside restaurants and bars has been banned for many years in most jurisdictions, risks of exposure to secondhand smoke outside have received somewhat less attention from researchers and regulators.
Recent studies indicate that, under certain conditions, tobacco smoke can be just as damaging to outdoor air quality, both to nonsmokers and workers who wait tables. Some studies show that air quality inside "smoke-free" restaurants also suffers from outdoor smoke.
While the ordinance is effective immediately, Council members said that they would discuss which fines to impose at a future meeting. Carr said that she expected the penalty to be modest, possibly in the range of $50 per offense.