The Montgomery County Council voted yesterday to require tanning salons to post health warnings and provide customers with protective gear, but stopped short of forcing municipalities to restrict smoking in restaurants to designated areas.

The council, in its last session before its August recess, made its tanning salon decision while acting as the County Board of Health. In this capacity, the council can make municipalities in the county enforce some ordinances that ordinarily would not be binding on them. Bills that automatically are binding are concerned with traffic and "life and death" issues, according to Council President Rose Crenca.

The council had originally approved the tanning salon restrictions in February and voted yesterday to make them binding.

However, the council bowed to pressure from local jurisdictions and rejected a bill to enforce the restaurant smoking bill, passed earlier this year. The smoking bill developed into a battle between county officials and city leaders who asserted that the municipalities should be permitted greater control over such issues.

City leaders, while asserting that they support the smoking ordinance, challenged the legislation, stating that municipalities should be permitted to enact their own smoking regulations as a matter of principle.

According to Sanford Daily, representative of the Montgomery Chapter of the Maryland Municipal League, which represents 16 municipalities in the county, Rockville and Takoma Park will enact their own ordinances, which he said he expects to be similar to the county-enacted legislation.

"We don't want to do something to push this down their throat unless there is an indication that they won't take any action, which is not true in this case," said council member Michael L. Gudis.

The bill that would have required municipalities to enforce the smoking regulation failed by a vote of 4 to 3.

The municipalities now can either do nothing, or enact laws stronger, weaker or similar to the county's.

The smoking ordinance, which originally was passed unanimously by the council, requires the operator of an eating and drinking establishment that seats 50 or more people to designate a nonsmoking area. The restaurant must post signs advertising the nonsmoking area and ask patrons whether they want to sit there. The nonsmoking area must comprise half of the establishment's seating capacity.

A restaurant found violating the county-imposed law is subject to a fine of up to $50. In addition, the restaurant's license could be suspended for up to three days for repeated violations.

The council's unanimous decision to regulate tanning salons forces the establishments to warn customers about the risks of tanning equipment by posting signs and issuing written statements.

Tanning parlors must also have customers sign statements saying they have read the warnings that overexposure to tanning lamps causes burns, that repeated exposure may cause skin cancer, and that certain foods, cosmetics and drugs can cause abnormal skin sensitivity. About 15 tanning salons operate in the county.

The council also postponed action -- after nearly four hours of debate -- on a bill aimed at restructuring towing regulations.

The bill would require towing services to file a copy of their rates with the Office of Consumer Affairs, and mandate a minimum number of "no parking" signs in commercial areas.

Towing companies would also be required to accept cash, two major credit cards or checks from those trying to retrieve their vehicles.

Council members said they could not support the bill because of its $114,000 price tag.