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Md. County Upholds Smoking Ban

December 12, 2000

ROCKVILLE, Md. (AP) _ A county council reluctantly approved the toughest outdoor smoking restriction in the nation Tuesday, upholding a community’s plan to impose $100 fine for smoking or discarding cigarettes in public areas.

The Montgomery County Council voted 5-4 to allow the Friendship Heights Village Council to impose the ban, which covers publicly maintained sidewalks and parks. Since Friendship Heights is not an incorporated municipality, its laws must be approved by the county council.

Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights says the restriction would be more stringent than those of the roughly 60 jurisdictions nationwide with outdoor smoking bans.

Friendship Heights Mayor Al Muller, a physician, told the council it’s a matter of public health for allergy and asthma sufferers, who should not have to avoid parks and other open spaces.

But the debate focused instead on a local jurisdiction’s rights to pass laws without being overruled.

County Councilman Howard Denis, from Friendship Heights, said he probably would not support the ban if he was on the Friendship Heights Village Council, but the town ``council’s wishes should be respected. If higher levels of government don’t respect lower government, the spirit of our laws are brought into question.″

Councilman Derick Berlage also said the local government rights issue persuaded him to support the measure.

Muller said the ban will take effect once administrative details are worked out.

Anyone caught smoking or discarding cigarette butts on locally maintained sidewalks or parks will be warned the first time. A repeat offense will bring a $100 fine.

Opponents plan acts of civil disobedience, and the tobacco industry is expected to sue.

Some local residents are upset for other reasons.

Cleo Travani, president of the Friendship Heights civic association, opposes smoking but said the law is not needed.

``Why do you have to have a law when voluntary compliance will work?″ Travani said. ``We don’t like the impression it makes on our community. We are not extremists.″

This is not Montgomery County’s first foray into controversy on smoking. A county smoking ban in restaurants is to take effect in January 2002. An appeals court is deciding that ban’s legality.

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