Three types of smoke-free bills are before the D.C. Council.
One would ban smoking in all eating and drinking establishments immediately upon enactment.
Another would ban smoking in all seating areas of restaurants immediately upon enactment and would ban smoking in bars, nightclubs and bar areas of restaurants starting on Jan. 1, 2007. However, and this is a big "however," that same bill would allow the mayor to grant a waiver for an establishment if it can show economic hardship -- a term, by the way, that the bill does not define, and that certainly favors those businesses that can afford accountants and well-connected lobbyists. The waiver provision is either a loophole you can drive a truck through or one that can allow zero waivers. No one knows which, but I presume that is the idea. Placate the business owners for now and appease the smoke-free advocates for now. Just pass the buck to whoever is the new mayor in 2007 -- and squash the issue.
The third bill, mine -- which Mayor Tony Williams has said he would sign -- is a true compromise that actually deals with the issue right here and now and would produce many more smoke-free choices while preserving some freedom of choice. Under my proposal, all restaurants, bars and nightclubs would be required to be smoke-free within six months unless they install a high-performance ventilation system, set aside at least 75 percent of their seating area as non-smoking (now it can be as little as 25 percent), set aside at least 50 percent of customer areas of all bars as non-smoking (now there is no set-aside) and pay quadruple the business license fee. Also, businesses that go smoke-free would receive a tax credit. This proposal could have a positive fiscal impact, and the revenue would go to fund smoking-cessation programs. The District has 200 smoke-free establishments, and if you count family-style establishments, there are 300. Under this compromise bill, there would certainly be more.
I will never understand why this government, which has fought so hard and long for a vibrant and vital city and a booming hospitality industry would push smokers onto the sidewalks and jeopardize what has been accomplished. We can actually have it all: vibrancy, freedom of choice and far more smoke-free environments.
-- Carol Schwartz