The Prince George's County Council this week introduced a bill that would restrict smoking in most public places, requiring smoking and nonsmoking sections.
The bill, which now will be taken to a public hearing in July, is the third smoking bill drafted this year and is a watered-down version of the legislation first presented to the council on Feb. 14.
Under the new bill, which will go into effect Oct. 1 if passed, smoking will be prohibited in elevators. It will be restricted in health care facilities, schools, public meeting places, restaurants with a capacity of more than 75 persons, retail stores, theaters and on county government property.
The bill is similar to the one passed in Montgomery County, except that restaurant owners there have the option of setting up nonsmoking sections if they wish Fairfax County also has a smoking ordinance and the District of Columbia is in the process of instituting one.
The initial bill would have restricted smoking in all Prince George's public buildings, including offices, forcing employers to divide their staffs into smoking and nonsmoking areas. It also would have required the monitoring of indoor air quality at all times.
"That bill was extremely stringent," said council Chairman Francis W. White, one of three smokers on the 11-member council."I know many of the staff and county employes were extremely concerned about it.
"I do think we need a bill to protect the rights of nonsmokers though," he added. "I would be in favor of a bill that would restrict smoking without banning it completely."
Most of the council members seemed to concur with White's feeling that the watered-down version of the bill was acceptable. Currently the only public place in Prince George's where smoking is banned is in the council hearing room and that is by administrative agreement among the council members.
Council Vice Chairman Floyd E. Wilson Jr., one of the leading proponents of a smoking-ban bills, said he hoped this bill would be a first step.
"I'm willing to accept this bill as it stands now, but I think it's possible in the future we might want to consider further restrictions if problems continue to exist," he said. "I'm not saying people shouldn't smoke. I'm just saying I shouldn't have to breathe it."
Tobacco is the number one agricultural product in Prince George's County and council member Francis B. Francois pointed out that the council wasn't trying to hurt the county's tobacco industry by passing the bill, saying that the passage of a smoking-ban bill should not affect cigarette sales.
During work sessions on the bill, tobacco industry lobbyists have argued that he bill will hurt the county economy. Those same arguments are expected to be heard again where [WORD ILLEGIBLE]public hearing is held.
There are public places exempted from the restrictions. They include barbershops, beauty slons, the enclosed areas of shopping mall walkways and tobacco shops. Also, actors may smoke on a theater stage if it is part of the production.
Fines for violating the restrictions will be stiffer for those failing to enforce the ban than for those who actually violate it.
The owner or a proprietor of a building who fails to enforce the smoking restrictions, either by failing to designate nonsmoking areas or by allowing smoking in the entire building, can be fined up to $50. The person caught smoking can be fined non more than $25.
An informal poll of council members last week indicated that the bill should pass, along with a resolution submitted by Francois asking that county offices serve as "an example" for promulgating the new restrictions.