A city-appointed committee in Alexandria, joining a nationwide crackdown on smoking in public places, recommended in a report released late last week that all of Alexandria's 225 restaurants be added to the growing list of Washington area eateries that must set aside sections for nonsmokers.
Committee members said their proposal, which will be presented to the City Council on Tuesday and will have a public hearing in the fall, is similar to ordinances in Fairfax, Arlington and Prince William counties and in more than 150 cities across the United States. Montgomery and Prince George's counties also require nonsmoking sections in restaurants.
A decade ago, Alexandria urged restaurant owners to set up nonsmoking areas voluntarily, but three-quarters of the city's restaurants did not respond, according to the report.
Unlike some jurisdictions that impose no-smoking restrictions only in large restaurants, the committee's proposal would apply to all eating establishments in Alexandria, which is popular for its varied cuisine.
The report recommends that all restaurants in the city be required to set aside one-fourth of their seats for nonsmokers. New restaurants or those that are substantially renovated would be required to maintain one-half of their seats for nonsmokers, unless the eateries meet certain ventilation standards.
Alexandria already bans smoking in many retail and food stores, and in all elevators and public meetings.
The 205-page report is intended to balance the rights of smokers and nonsmokers, committee chairwoman Margaret Levine said.
"Nonsmoking patrons of the city's many fine restaurants ought to be able to enjoy their meals as free as possible of harmful and irritating tobacco smoke," the report says.
Levine, who described herself as a nonsmoker with severe allergy problems, said she was relieved that the seven committee members produced a workable report after 10 months of effort. "It was a long and arduous process that we went through," she said. "We had members of the committee who had very strong opinions."
Mayor James P. Moran Jr., who is an occasional smoker, said he supports the committee's recommendation and does not foresee significant opposition.
J. Thomas Rouland, the committee's restaurant association representative, said he thought that the panel agreed on a "reasonable" proportional requirement for designated nonsmoking sections.
Some restaurant owners took issue with the report's recommendations, which they said would be inconvenient and difficult to enforce.
A representative of the 108-seat Marco's Cafe said nonsmoking sections do not achieve their intended purpose. "A no-smoking sign doesn't do anything. You inhale more smoke in the street than in any restaurant," he said.