Alexandria is considering an ordinance, similar to one passed in Fairfax County last September, that would prohibit smoking in a variety of public places including retail and food stores, elevators, theaters and publicly supported cultural facilities.
Under the proposed ordinance, now being drawn up by the Alexandria City Attorney's office, a $25 dollar fine would be imposed on violators. Fairfax County also fines persons $25 fine for violating its smoking regulations, while Montgomery County, the first area suburban jurisdiction to pass such a law, fines violators $50.
As it is now contemplated, the Alexandria ordinance would, in certain cases, be stricter than the new one now in effect in Fairfax. For instance, while the Fairfax law prohibits smoking in food and retail stores that regularly employ eight or more persons, the Alexandria law would apply to all such stores without regard to their size.
As in Fairfax, the proposed Alexandria law would exempt some areas such as theater lobbies from the smoking ban. Exemptions also are contemplated in certain areas of public libraries, galleries, museums and hospitals.
"It will enable any public facility to set aside a smoking section as along as they can do it without infringing on non-smokers rights," said Mary Craig, who is drawing up the ordinance for the Alexandria City Attorney's office.
With regard to hospitals under the proposed ordinance, Craig said smoking could be permitted for patients and visitors in certain areas and in specific patient rooms. But she added that if this is not feasible, "I'm tempted to say that the smokers' rights should be subordinate to non-smokers, given that it is in a hospital."
The ordinance is being drawn up following a City Council vote of 4 to 3 last week in favor of a motion by Council Member Ellen Pickering. Pickering admitted that it may be tougher to get the ordinance passed the Alexandria City Council than it was in Fairfax. Last fall, the council refused to pass an ordinance similar to one in Fairfax that prohibits the public display or sexually oriented magazines such as Penthouse and Playboy.
Pickering originally had suggested that smoking be banned outright in city restaurants, but she has now agreed to allow certain sections of restaurants to be set aside for non-smokers as in Fairfax. The council already has passed a resolution asking restaurant owners to set aside such areas.
A major opponent of the smoking ordinance is Council Member Donald C. Casey, who frequently puffs a pipe during council meetings. Casey believes that any regulations on smoking necessary to protect the health and welfare of the public can be handled by the city health and fire departments.
"I think if a person wants to go to hell and can do it without jeopardizing anybody else, he has a God-given right to do it," Casey said, explaining that in his opinion laws such as the proposed smoking ordinance infringe on personal liberties. "I don't think any legislative body has the right to impose itself in the life of any individual."
Casey added that because a violator would be charged with a misdemeanor under the proposed ordinance, the authorities would be reluctant to enforce the law.
The City Council also took the following actions last week:
By a 4 to 3 vote directed City Manager Douglas Herman to prepare a plan for the partial or total demolition of the northernmost building of the Torpedo Factory on the Alexandria waterfront. The plan is to be incorporated as a part of Alexandria's capital improvement program. The building currently houses an archeology laboratory and is used for storage by the city.
Set April 15 as a public hearing date on a proposal to remove 156 parking meters from residential areas and place them in the downtown commercial district. The city is studying the possibility of establishing a residential parking permit system, and only those residential areas without parking meters would be eligible to have residential parking meters.