A committee of the D.C. City Council approved a far-reaching antismoking bill yesterday that would prohibit or severely restrict the use of tobacco in most public places in Washington that are not under federal control.
The measure would prohibit smoking in most work areas of office buildings and industrial plants operated by private companies, but permits those firms to set aside areas reserved for smokers.
As approved by a 3-to-0 vote of the council's committee on transportation and environmental affairs, the measure would extend the present ban on smoking in stores, elevators and schools and would impose a ban on smoking in galleries, public meeting rooms, convention halls and the public areas of hospitals and clinics.
Smoking would be permitted without restriction in restaurants and bars with fewer than 50 seats that have city retail liquor licenses. In larger restaurants, smokers would be put into segregated areas. In theaters, smoking would be permitted only in lobbies.
First-time violators could be fined up to $10. Repeat violators could be fined form $50 to $100 or jailed for up to 10 days.
Yesterday's committee action sends the measure to the full council for action, probably next month. If passed, it would be subject to congressional review. Although Congress has the power, it never has overturned any bill enacted by the council and signed by the mayor since the city got limited home rule in 1975.
All three committee members who voted for the bill are nonsmokers. They are Hilda Mason (Statehood-At-Large), Nadine P. Winter (D. Ward 6) and Jerry A. Moore Jr. (R-At Large), the committee chairman.
Of the entire council membership of 13, only one - Willie J. Hardy (D. Ward 7) - professes to be a habitual smoker.
In its official report on the bill, the committee said its purpose "is to protect the health, well-being and comfort of nonsmokers."
"This bill," the report continue, "while seeking to protect the right of nonsmokers to breathe smoke-free air, also recognizes the right of smokers to smoke and attempts to accommodate (this) ... by permitting segregated smokers' and nonsmokers' sections where feasible."
The measure has been under consideration for 2 1/2 years, since it was first introduced by the late council members Julius Hobson Sr. (Statehood-At-Large). The current version is sponsored by Council Chairman Sterling Tucker.
Three public hearings and two informal forums were held on the measure. It was supported by a majority of 90 witnesses, including spokesmen for health organizations. Representatives of the restaurant, tourist and convention industries voiced fears the bill would drive business away from Washington.
The committee said its legislation was modeled after a statewide antismoking law in Minnesota, which has the most stringent restrictions in the country.
In the Washington area, Fairfax and Montgomery counties have enacted legislation banning smoking in retail stores, supermarkets, public shools, hospitals and at public meetings. Restaurants, bars, hotels and work spaces occupied by private firms are exempted.
Although buildings operated by the federal government are exempt from District legislation of this type, some agencies already provide no-smoking areas for some employes and restrict smoking in cafeterias.
One of the bill's most far-reaching provisions would prohibit smoking, other than in segregated rooms, in any "area serving as a place of work" - a large office, a manufacturing plant, a warehouse or a repair garage, to name a few examples.
In restaurants and bars, the measure would prohibit the management from serving any food or drink to a customer who lights up in defiance of the smokingban.