As a small group of elementary school students held up hand-lettered signs protesting smoking and Councilman Dickran Y. Hovspian puffed on a thin cigar, the Montgomery approved legislation to restrict smoking public places.

Councilwoman Elizabeth Scuill, who with Councilwoman Esther Gelman sponsored the legislation, said, "This is non-smokers bill of rights. It allows them to go about their daily work in good health."

The legislation would become effective 76 days after the date signed by COunty Executive James, however, that Gleason has not decided whether to sign the bill. The spokesman said Gleason had questions about enforcement and whether the county government should legislate a dispute between smokers and nonsmokers. Gleason has 10 days from the date the bill is passed to decide whether he will sign it.

The legislation would prohibit smoking in retail stores when more than eight persons are employed at one time, health care facilities under certain conditions, schools except designated smoking areas and facilities owned or leased by the county government and normally used for public purposes and private facilities where public meeting are called by governmental bodies.

In addition, retail stores, restaurants, private schools and other facilities not covered by the act may elect to have the law apply to them by notifying the county government and by posting signs prohibiting smoking.

Exceptions to the smoking ban are during the hours a facility is not being used by the public, areas of enclosed malls or shopping centers used by customers primarily as a route to travel from one store to another, barbershops, beauty salons and private enclosed offices where the public is not normally present and smoking by actors as part of stage production.

Under the legislation, it would be unlawful for the person in control of a facility covered by the legislation to allow service or seating of a person who smoked in violation of the law. Any person who violated the nonsmoking law would be subject to a fine up to $50.

The legislation passed despite reservations that some COuncil members and county officials expressed about enforcement.

In a January letter to the Council, Police Chief Robert di Grazia termed the bill an "appropriate piece of legislation" but said, "we have some very serious misgiving regarding the involvement of the department of police in the enforcement aspect. This additional burden will be categorized as a low priority."

Charles M. Bernardo, superintendent of schools, also expressed such reservations in a letter to the Council, as did Frances L. Abrams, director of the department of environmntal protection. Abrams also had questions about the legality of allowing facilities not covered by the bill to choose to have the law applied to them. She also said that a $50 fine would "have little meaning" to owners who refused to have their facilities comply with the law.

The last point was disputed by Council-member Gelman, who pointed out that under the legislation, facilities could be enjoined from repeated violations.

In other government action Tuesday, the county filed suit in U.S. District Court against the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, alleging that a 1974 federal health planning law is unconstitutional.

The law established 200 health service areas across the country which have the responsibility for improving the distribution of local health care. Montgomery County comprises one of those areas.

The suit is an attempt to bring the responsibility for local health planning back to local government. Under the federal law and subsequent HEW regulations, the authority rests with an autonomous local health planning body. In Montgomery the body is the Health Systems Planning Board, which is composed of 23 volunteers who and who are appointed by the county executive.

Once appointed, the board is not responsible to the county, but instead is responsible to the state. A spokesman for county executive Gleason said the suit is an attempt to make the board responsible to local elected officials.

The board is responsible for writing and implementing a yearly health service plan for the county; it also approves construction plans of new health care facilities that intend to get federal reimbursement such as Medicare and Medicaid funds.