Smoking Ban Blocked
A Montgomery County judge today blocked the village of Friendship Heights from enforcing a smoking ban described as the strictest in the nation.
Circuit Court Judge Nelson Rupp issued a temporary restraining order that prohibits the village from enforcing the ordinance that prohibits smoking on public property, including sidewalks and streets.
Rupp scheduled a full hearing on the matter for Feb. 15.
A lobbyist for the tobacco industry hailed the judge's decision. The industry unsuccessfully fought to keep the Montgomery County Council from approving the ban. But the council voted 5-4 in favor of the ban on Dec. 12, and the law took effect immediately.
"I'm a happy man," said Bruce Bereano, who represents the Maryland Association of Candy and Tobacco Wholesalers. "I told you we were going to file suit. This will be overturned, not just temporarily but permanently."
Technically, the lawsuit is being brought not by Bereano's group but by a Friendship Heights resident. But Bereano said he found the plaintiff, who is being represented pro-bono by former Maryland state delegate Tim Maloney.
The lawsuit alleges that because Friendship Heights is a special taxing district and not a municipality, it has no right to pass such an ordinance and have it approved by the county council.
Under the measure, anyone caught smoking or discarding any tobacco product on village property will receive one warning before being fined $100.
Friendship Heights Mayor Alfred Muller called that an unjustified "attack" on the village's authority and emphasized that the restraining order is only a "temporary thing."
"Whenever we are involved in controversies, the court system takes a while to figure out that we are correct," Muller said. "By the time the dust has settled and all the hearings and the appeals are through, I am confident that we will prevail."
Friendship Heights is a community of 5,000, with many residents who live in high-rises and who frequent the high-end shopping district along Wisconsin Avenue just north of the District line.
Muller and the other members of the Friendship Heights Village Council drafted the measure four years ago, but they didn't forward it to the county until July. Muller said recent county approval of smoking bans in offices and restaurants (now under court challenge), as well as a new law requiring most stores to put tobacco behind the counter, led him to believe that the council would be receptive to the outdoor smoking ban.
Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights, an advocacy group based in California, maintains a database of about 1,000 local smoking ordinances throughout the country. Although several cities ban smoking in outdoor areas where people regularly congregate, none go as far as Friendship Heights.