The Montgomery County Council voted today to extend smoke-free workplace protections to restaurant and bar employees and assure customers a smoke-free environment by passing a total ban on smoking in all county eating and drinking establishments.
The measure passed by 5 to 4, with Council President Isiah Leggett and Councilmembers Blair Ewing, Steve Silverman, Phil Andrews, and Derick Berlage voting in favor. Voting against the smoking ban were Councilmembers Michael Subin, Nancy Dacek, Betty Ann Krahnke, and Marilyn Praisner.
The measure, the strongest smoke-free law in Maryland and one of the strongest in the nation, was amended to soften possible impacts on county restaurants. The law will go into effect 34 months from now -- on January 1, 2002. The Montgomery County Department of Economic Development will be directed to work with those restaurants with 75 seats or less that are affected to help them make the transition.
"There are strong and compelling arguments in favor and against this," said Councilmember Derick Berlage, who presented the amendments and cast the deciding vote. "The deciding factor, however, is that restaurant employees are the only Montgomery Countians who are not guaranteed a smoke-free workplace. Itís fundamentally unfair to deny them those protections."
"This is good for Montgomery County," said Council President Leggett. "It puts an end to second-hand smoke and makes the county a model for others to follow. Itís a victory for restaurant workers and restaurant patrons."
With passage of the bill today, the County Council will decide next week whether to approve the law in their role as the County Board of Health. If, as expected, they do so, then the ban would apply to all of Montgomery County in a uniform fashion and would not require any action by the County Executive.
"Iím pleased we will implement this as the County Board of Health," said Councilmember Ewing. "We have the authority and obligation to protect public health in public places."
"We shouldnít set up false choices," added Councilmember Silverman. "Itís not economic revitalization versus workersí health. We can do both."
"This makes Montgomery County a leader," said Councilmember Andrews.