The Takoma Park City Council early today approved the region's toughest anti-smoking law, requiring smoke-free workplaces, nonsmoking sections in restaurants and the banning cigarette vending machines in premises accessible to children.
The legislation also bans distribution of free samples of tobacco products and smoking in day-care centers.
"Smokers have every right to kill themselves, but they can't kill me and my children," said council member Hank Prensky, the bill's sponsor. "Our intention is not punishment. Our intention is to protect the health and safety of our citizens."
The restrictions take effect Oct. 1.
Taken as a package, the Takoma Park law goes beyond other area efforts to regulate smoking, such as the recently enacted statewide restrictions on smoking in Virginia restaurants, public places and large retail stores, or Howard County's policy of urging a smoke-free workplace. In the District, a prominent group of health care professionals has called on the D.C. Council to restrict smoking in the workplace, taxicabs, restaurants and other public places.
Because Takoma Park lies in both Montgomery and Prince George's counties, two sets of smoking regulations have been in effect. But what began as an attempt by officials to set a uniform smoking policy across the city developed into a crusade to position Takoma Park as a leader in the anti-smoking movement.
City officials had intended to come up with a bill mirroring the stiff anti-smoking laws of Montgomery County, and those regulations are a large part of the new Takoma Park measures. For example, as in Montgomery, smoking will be prohibited in workplaces shared by at least three employees, where at least one worker opposes smoking. Businesses may allow smoking in private, enclosed offices or in designated enclosed smoking areas.
The City Council went beyond the county's rules by requiring separate smoking and nonsmoking sections in restaurants with at least 25 seats. The county's regulations apply to restaurants serving 50 or more.
Takoma Park's ban on smoking in day-care centers and the call for removal of some of the city's cigarette vending machines are novel for this region.
Prensky had sought to ban all cigarette vending machines, but state law allows for a ban only in cases where health and safety are jeopardized. The city's law says children are endangered by vending machines, allowing the city to remove them from such places as coat rooms and public buildings.
Tabled until fall was another Prensky-sponsored measure to ban smoking in all of the city's 12 restaurants -- a bill that has already drawn criticism from Mayor Stephen J. Del Giudice, a supporter of the smoking laws passed early today.
"I feel it might be too much too soon," Del Giudice said earlier. "It may be the right direction, but I'm not sure we should change the world overnight."