Adam Zimmerman, a smoke-free advocate, lives in Rockville.
In fall 2018, we have the chance to make history again.
Bill 35-18, introduced by County Council member Sidney Katz (D-District 3), would make Montgomery County the first county in Maryland to have a smoke-free outdoor dining law.
The evidence shows that smoke-free outdoor dining laws work. That’s why the bill has been endorsed by the American Heart Association, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights, the Institute for Public Health Innovation, the Maryland Public Health Association, the Maryland Group Against Smoker’s Pollution and Holy Cross Health. The County Council should adopt it.
The 2003 clean indoor air act paid immediate dividends economically: Six months after enactment, the county reported a 7 percent increase in its restaurant tax revenue compared with the same six-month period in the prior year. In the ensuing years, the county extended smoke-free air protections to various other places, including county parks, playgrounds and public housing units. Today, thanks to these and other efforts, Montgomery County has the lowest adult smoking rate — 7 percent — of any county in Maryland.
Bill 35-18 would build on this record of success and cement the county’s well-earned reputation as a national leader on smoke-free policies.
Smoke-free outdoor dining would improve health. There is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke — even outdoors and even for short periods of time. Smoke-free outdoor dining will protect patrons, especially children, and food-service employees from the dangers of secondhand smoke.
Smoke-free outdoor dining can have a positive economic impact for restaurants and bars. Montgomery County’s own experience shows that to be true, and a significant body of research examining similar laws nationwide proves the point. As the National Cancer Institute and World Health Organization have concluded: “The evidence clearly demonstrates that smoke-free policies do not cause adverse economic outcomes for businesses, including restaurants and bars. In fact, smoke-free policies often have a positive economic impact on businesses.”
Smoke-free outdoor dining is good not only for nonsmokers but for smokers as well. Research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that most smokers want to quit, and smoke-free air policies can help them do it.
Smoke-free outdoor dining sends a positive message to county families and visitors. As a parent, I appreciate living in a community where leaders value and prioritize the health of children and families. We’ve rightly come to expect smoke-free air protections in indoor areas of restaurants and bars. Those same protections should apply to outdoor eating and drinking areas as well.
If this bill is enacted, Montgomery County will join four states and more than 300 municipalities across the country — including Rockville and Gaithersburg — that have enacted smoke-free outdoor dining policies. It is a natural next step toward promoting better health, a stronger economy and a brighter future for Montgomery County children and families. In short, there’s no reason not to pass this bill.