Proposed Rockville smoking ban garners mixed response

By Timmy Chong.

The city of Rockville in February introduced a ban that would prohibit smoking at the outdoor dining areas of restaurants and bars, according to the proposal drafted by City Councilwoman Julie Palakovich Carr with help from anti-smoking advocate Adam Zimmerman.

If passed, the ban proposed at the Feb. 6 Mayor and Council meeting would be the fourth piece of anti-smoking legislation over the last decade as part of the city’s gradual effort to enact smoking restrictions. Rockville would be the first city in the D.C. metro area to enact a smoke-free ordinance for outdoor dining establishments.

Zimmerman, a seven-year Rockville resident, also initiated the unanimously passed 2015 bill that forbade smoking at city parks, facilities, and the Rockville Town Center (RTC) main plaza.

“[I’m] confident that the measure covering outdoor dining areas will pass,” Zimmerman said.  “[It’s] a natural next step toward promoting better health for our residents.”

A 2016 study conducted by the National Cancer Institute and the World Health Organization suggests that smoke-free laws do not harm the profits or patronage of restaurants and bars. Mike Raffo, the general manager of RTC’s Bar Louie, said he does not support an outdoor smoking ban even though he said business would eventually bounce back.

A public hearing was held at the March 27 Mayor and Council meeting, where Zimmerman opened the conversation by using statistics to support the proposed ban, citing the dangers of secondhand smoke for children, families, and restaurant patrons.

Three town center restaurant owners were the only ones to present opposition at the meeting’s public forum— Sonali and Sudhir Seth of Spicy Xing, and Danny Trehan of Mellow Mushroom.

“Many restaurants in this area are struggling,” Sonali Seth said. Her husband Sudhir, who quit smoking last year after 35 years, said encouraging smokers to quit would be more effective than implementing legal restrictions.

“I’m a non-smoker, but I own a business,” Trehan said. “How can I control everybody? I’m not supposed to control my outdoor patrons, what they want to do, their free will.”

“Let them do what they want to, but I am running an operation over here. Did I make a mistake in coming to Montgomery County? I feel I did.”

Even if the bill were to pass, Raffo agrees with Trehan that there are not enough measures to keep people in check. “It would be impossible to police unless officers sit outside of bars,” he said, pointing to several people unlawfully smoking on the town center’s main plaza.

“I’m against the ban,” Richard Veal, a six-year Rockville resident, said. “It’s bullshit. What’s next, will they fine me for smoking in my car?”

Featured image courtesy of Creative Commons.

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