A bill that outlaws smoking in the public areas of most buildings in the District of Columbia was approved yesterday by the D.C., City Council.

By a preliminary but decisive vote that is unlikely to be reversed, the council adopted the measure after agreeing to permit unrestricted smoking in restaurants and hotel lobbies.

The council earlier had eliminated what probably was the most controversial provision of its original bill, a prohibition against smoking in any nonfederal work place - that is, any officer or industrial plant.

Buildings owned or controlled by the U.S. government are not covered by the measure, since they are outside the D.C. Council's legal jurisdiction.

The measure, under consideration for nearly three years, is expected to go into effect next spring. After expected final passage by the council July 25, the bill must be reviewed by Congress, which has power to veto it.

With the bill's approval, the District of Columbia will follow Fairfax, Montgomery and Arlington counties among jurisdictions in this area that bar smoking in most public places but permit it in restaurants. Similar legislation is being considered in Prince George's County but recently was sidetracked in Alexandria.

Two weeks ago, the D.C. Council tabled the bill after members Marion Barry (D-At Large) and John A. Wilson (D-Ward 2) contended that a requirement for segregating smokers from nonsmokers in restaurants would discourage business and lose jobs in the city.

After Wilson offered an amendment yesterday to let people smoke anywhere in restaurants and in hotel lobbies, the measure was passed on a unanimous voice vote.

Two of the council's most vigorous antismoking advocates, Polly Shackleton (D-Ward 3) and Hilda Mason (Statehood-At Large), said that although they regretted the need for a compromise, the bill was still a great advance.

District of Columbia laws now prohibit smoking in transit vehicles, large retail stores, public elevators, specified places of public assembly, and other areas restricted by the fire chief.

The new bill extends the ban to almost everywhere the general public may congregate - buildings open to the public for entertainment, sports events, exhibits, public meetings and the like. For example, smoking would be banned at City Council sessions.

Smoking also would be banned in barber shops, beauty parlors, laundromats and in the public areas of hospitals and other health care facilities and schools and colleges.

Only one type of retail establishment is exempted from the bill's provisions: tobacco shops.

Private meetings, from which the general public is excluded, also are exempted. Operators of public halls and theaters may set aside places, including entire lobbies, for smoking.

In its official report on the bill, the council's Committee on Transportation and Environmental Affairs, headed by Jerry A. Moore Jr. (R-At Large), described how the measure would apply to private offices.

"(Restrictions) would cover the lobbies and reception areas of offices, but not the private offices in back," the report said. "In a bank, for instance, the public area would include those areas where the public waits to transact business, cashing or depositing checks, but not the back administrative offices.

"The prohibition would cover the reception areas of professional offices. It does not include offices where the public does not generally come, but which have several persons working in them, such as typing pools."

First-time violators could be fined $10 to $50. Repeat violators could be fined $50 to $100 and jailed for up to 10 days. Business that fail to post required no-smoking signs could be fined up to $300.