GIVE D.C. COUNCIL member Carol Schwartz (R-At Large) an A for ingenuity in coming up with a novel way to tweak supporters of a proposed smoking ban in District bars and restaurants. Yesterday, Mrs. Schwartz, a vocal opponent of smoking bans who is also chairman of the Public Works and the Environment Committee, which oversees such legislation, introduced a bill to ban all alcohol in the District of Columbia. Her tongue-in-cheek proposal used many of the arguments advanced by proponents of the smoking ban. "I'm also now looking at some other legal choices to ban -- like driving or sex -- for they, too, can be dangerous to your health and the health of others," she told her council colleagues.
Score one for sarcasm. But a less amusing question is whether Mrs. Schwartz will bottle up smoking-ban legislation in her committee as she did last year. Early indications suggest that she will unless the council presents a compromise bill to her liking. That is no laughing matter.
Mrs. Schwartz's latest tactics may have been prompted by a major shift in sentiment on the council. Last year, only three members backed a ban on smoking; this year, nine of the council's 13 members and Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) support some smoking restrictions. This year, the votes seem to be there to circumvent Mrs. Schwartz's committee and to enact a smoking ban by year's end. We hope, however, that the latter can be achieved without resorting to the former.
The public health case for making District bars and restaurants smoke-free is compelling. The issue is particularly acute for workers who have no choice but to breathe secondhand smoke while tending bar or waiting tables. In enacting a ban, according to Post staff writer Eric M. Weiss, the District would be joining 1,900 other localities, including Montgomery County; seven states; and Ireland, Norway, Italy, Sweden and New Zealand.
Opponents of a ban worry about an economic downside, but the evidence does not support their fears. That is one of the reasons that Mr. Williams, who originally opposed a smoking ban, changed his position and sided with a council majority.
The council hopes to pass a bill restricting smoking before the July 15 recess. That should be sufficient time to produce legislation that achieves the proponents' major objectives while taking into account some of Mrs. Schwartz's ideas, such as directing funds collected through penalties for smoking violations to anti-smoking and health education programs. The legislative goal is not to determine the victor or the vanquished in the debate over a smoking ban, but rather to pass a good law that protects public health.