D.C. looks to make bars smoke-free
The D.C. government is considering a bill that would make it illegal to smoke in any bar, nightclub or restaurant in D.C.
Advocates of smoke-free workplaces have also requested an initiative that will appear on ballots in November if the referendum is approved in a hearing Wednesday.
"Having smoking and non-smoking areas of a restaurant is like having peeing and non-peeing areas of a pool," said Angela Bradbery of Smokefree D.C., the non-profit organization behind the effort. "You have a right to smoke, but that ends when it affects a person's right to breathe clean air."
Councilmember Kathleen Patterson, the D.C. Council representative for Ward 3, which includes AU, introduced the bill along with Councilmember Adrian Fenty (Ward 4). It would carry penalties of $100 for lighting up in a public place and up to $1,000 for subsequent offenses.
Wednesday, the District's Board of Elections and Ethics will decide if the resolution will be on the ballot in November.
Sharlene Kranz, an AU alum who volunteers for the political action group Citizens for a Smokefree Workplace, believes that the initiative will pass. "It does not violate D.C. law in any respect, and it doesn't encumber the city's budget," Kranz said. "I see no reason why the Board of Elections [and Ethics] won't approve the subject matter."
If the bill passes, Citizens for a Smokefree Workplace plans to collect the signatures of about 18,000 registered D.C. voters - about 5 percent of the District's registered voters.
"It's a lot of signatures to get, and we have four months to do it," Kranz said. "But lots of D.C. residents have expressed interest."
D.C. Councilmember Carol Schwartz (At-Large) disagrees with the bill. "Plain and simple, I think we would be shooting ourselves in the foot - or worse - if we were to enact an outright prohibition on smoking in bars and restaurants," Schwartz said in a statement.
Similar bills have been passed in California, New York, Delaware, Boston and Montgomery County, Md., but studies on the effects of the law have shown conflicting results.
According to Schwartz, "The Washington Post reported on Nov. 14 that bar and restaurant patrons are leaving Montgomery County in droves to patronize establishments - many of them in the District - where they can smoke."
District restaurants and bars generated $185 million in sales taxes last year, and stopping such revenue would not be wise, Schwartz said. "Hospitality is our biggest industry, and it has sustained some pretty big hits in the past few years: Sept. 11, anthrax, snipers, multiple snowstorms and a hurricane," she said. "Now that it is rebounding, we cannot afford to throw another obstacle in its way."
In contrast, smoke-free advocates point to several studies that show no harmful economic effects. A study published in the Journal of Public Health Management and Practice analyzed sales tax data in six states and found no effect on revenue.
Schwartz, also chair of the Public Works and the Environment Committee, has an alternate bill that would offer tax breaks to establishments that voluntarily go smoke-free.
AU students are also divided on the issue.
Anna Frueh, a freshman in the School of Communication and School of International Service, said, "I understand the bill, because smoking is such a social thing. However, being an asthmatic, I'm not a big fan of smoking. If you go to a club, and there's smoking, it's harder to breathe."
Rebekah Mitter, a freshman in the School of Public Affairs, disagreed. "If we stop letting people smoke in bars, what's next?" Mitter said. "No drinking in bars? No dancing in bars because of sexual innuendoes? You could say when people get wasted they get violent. When you work at a bar you choose to work there. You know that comes with the job"