In the face of vociferous objections from local tobacco farmers, the Prince George's County Council approved legislation yesterday restricting smoking in the county's restaurants and public buildings.
By a 7-to-3 vote, the council made Prince George's the fifth area jurisdiction to impose regulations on smoking in public places. The ordinance approved yesterday, however, was much less stringent than the one originally proposed in February.
During the one-hour debate leading up to the voting yesterday, council member William B. Amonett, who had been the leading spokesman for the county tobacco growers, asked, "Are we going to jump on the bandwagon like everyone else and place further restrictions on people's lives?
"These kinds of bills can only be a beginning. The antismoking people will come back for more and before we know it, we will have begun prohibition again, only this time with tobacco," added Amonett, nothing that 65 to 70 percent of county tobacco growers live in his district.
Amonett's bandwagon reference was made in light of antismoking bills passed on the past two years in Montgomery. Howard, Fairfax and Arlington and a bill currently under consideration in the District of Columbia.
Council member Francis B. Francois, the bill's author, disagreed strongly with Amonett.
"This has nothing to do with bandwagons," he said, "this has to do with public health. This bill is not antitobacco, it is not going to stop the growing of tobacco in Prince George's County by any means. Spitting was, outlawed 100 years ago but people still chew tobacco."
Council member David G. Hartlove Jr., who had been expected to vote against the bill, surprised many observers by pointing out that most of the tobacco grown in Maryland is sold overseas.
"This is a courtesy bill," he said. "We're not forcing people to give up smoking, we've just asking them to regulate it."
Earlier, the Council rejected an amendment proposed by council member Parris N. Glendening that would have exempted restaurants from the bar. Glendening argued that including restaurants was going "too far."
The inclusion of the restaurants in the bill makes Prince George's only the second area jurisdiction to include restaurants in its smoking bill. Until now, only Howard County regulated smoking in restaurants.
Council work sessions on this legislation during the past six months were filled to overflowing with both pro and antismoking lobbyists. During yesterday's final debate, Francois pointed out that other local jurisdictions with antismoking legislation in force have no tobacco farmers.
Tobacco is the most abundant agricultural product in Prince George's County, and, partially as a result of the outcry by angry farmers, the Council cut back on some of the antismoking restrictions in the original bill.
Originally, the legislation would have regulated smoking in office buildings, public or private, and in office hallways. The new legislation does not.
Under the new ordinance, the only place smoking is banned is in elevators.Other affected premises - including restaurants that seat 75 or more must segregate smokers from non-smokers, but do not have to ban smoking. Theatergoers cannot smoke in seating areas but may smoke in the lobbies.
Joining Amonett in opposition to the legislation yesterday were Council chairman Francis W. White and Council member Glendening.