Restaurants sue county over smoking ban

Clyde's of Chevy Chase included in Maryland lawsuit

Restaurant owners filed a lawsuit Sept. 15 against Montgomery County, Md., about a restaurant smoking ban that is supposed to take effect Oct. 9, according to a state trade association.

In July, for the second time in two years, the Montgomery County Council voted 8-1 to prohibit smoking in the county's restaurants. The first attempt, a 1999 ban, did not take effect because restaurant owners sued and the Maryland Court of Appeals tossed out the ban.

"We're going to fight it just like we did before," said Melvin Thompson, vice president for government relations for the Restaurant Association of Maryland. "In 1999, we filed a lawsuit. The county is trying to do it again."

The Restaurant Association of Maryland is a 3,000-member state trade association that represents the food industry.

The association is not a direct party to the lawsuit, however. The County Council is being sued by a coalition of restaurants, three of which are being made public, Thompson said. These restaurants include Clyde's of Chevy Chase, Tower Oaks Lodge in Rockville and the Anchor Inn restaurant in Silver Spring. The Tower Oaks Lodge is owned by the same company as Clyde's.

"It's in the hands of a judge at the moment," Clyde's general manager Tony Moynagh said of the suit. He said that, while the judge could rule immediately, he does not think this is likely.

Thompson said the lawsuit against the county contains two components. One is to determine whether the county has the authority to enact a ban against the restaurants. The other part of the lawsuit, Thompson said, is to prevent the ban from going into effect early next month while the matter is debated.

The Montgomery County ban is similar to a proposed ban on smoking in all workplaces in D.C., which would include bars and restaurants. Last Wednesday, the group Smokefree D.C. formally announced the D.C. ban in a news conference, which is to be introduced to D.C. Council by members Kathleen Patterson and Adrian M. Fenty next month.

The Restaurant Association's opposition to the ban is based on the restaurant owners' concerns about losing customers who want to smoke in restaurants.

"In an area like Montgomery County, it is easy for people to go anywhere," Thompson said. "People will very quickly and very easily cross over into D.C. and Prince George's County where smoking is not prohibited."

Thompson said that Delaware and New York City, two places that recently enacted similar smoking bans, have suffered.

"There has been as much as a 40 percent drop in businesses in Delaware and New York," Thompson said. "Some of those restaurants are even laying off employees."

However, Larry Couch, coordinator for the Smoke-Free Montgomery County Coalition, disagreed.

"Whenever passed and implemented, non-smoking ordinances have had either a positive effect or no effect on restaurants," Couch said.

"Workers should not be exposed to the hazards of second-hand smoke," he said. "We wouldn't put them in other dangerous environments, so there is no reason to make an exception for second-hand smoke."

Moynagh said that Clyde's worked to make the restaurant hospitable to all diners.

"We built our facility seven years ago. We totally separated smoking from non-smoking," he said. "We spent a large sum of money for a state-of-the-art air handling system."

Many organizations, however, support the ban and played a part in getting it passed in the county. They argue that second-hand smoke violates the rights of non-smokers and restaurant employees.

"[Smoke] is a carcinogen," said John Banzhaf, executive director of Action on Smoking and Health. "It drifts and re-circulates. One hundred million people's health is directly affected by smoking.

"More and more places are banning smoking and Montgomery County should too," Banzhaf said.

Some support the ban because they say it will also provide an impetus for people to quit smoking.

"The smoking ban is good because it creates fewer options for smokers and makes it inconvenient for them," AU graduate student Anisha Dewan said. "In a way society is helping them work toward quitting."

Junior Arpit Trivedi said he supports the ban and hopes it becomes implemented everywhere soon.

"It is good for the non-smokers like me," Trivedi said. "It should be applied to all the counties in Maryland eventually."

However, some view the ban as inconvenient and discriminatory against smokers.

"The worst discrimination in America is against smokers," sophomore Adam Cox said. "Second-hand smoke is not that bad. Just living in a city is bad for your lungs anyway"

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