Village Still Wants Ban On Smoking
Friendship Heights Mayor Alfred Muller has revived the issue by writing to County Council President Michael L. Subin, asking the panel to ratify a four-year-old proposal that would give the village one of the toughest smoking ordinances in the nation.
It would prohibit smoking on streets, sidewalks, parks and other public property maintained by the village. That means all streets in the village except for Wisconsin and Willard avenues, which are maintained by the county and state. The measure also would prohibit discarding tobacco products on public grounds. Violators could be subject to a $100 fine.
"With 400,000 American deaths each year from smoking-related disease (and additional thousands from secondhand smoke) we believe there should be every effort by elected officials to discourage smoking," Muller, who is a doctor, wrote in his letter to the County Council last month. "The cost to the individuals, the families, and the community is enormous and growing every year."
Because Friendship Heights is a special taxing district--not a municipality--the 1996 proposal required the approval of the County Council. At that time, some County Council members criticized the measure as an affront to individual freedom. Lacking support from the required majority, the Village Council took the proposal off the table before it ever got to a vote on the County Council.
The proposal also drew strong opposition within Friendship Heights itself, which is located just across Western Avenue from Washington. The Friendship Heights Village Civic Association opposed the measure, saying the ban would be difficult and costly to enforce, that littering already was prohibited, that there was no scientific proof that outdoor smoking causes harm to people other than the smoker. They also argued that the village should not be "a testing ground."
The civic association's board has again taken up a position against the smoking ban, and criticized Muller and the Village Council for not giving notice that they were reviving the issue.
Cleo Tavani, president of the Friendship Heights Village Civic Association, this week called the proposal "ill-conceived" and said it would be "impossible to enforce."
"We are a very tiny enclave and the whole surrounding area would not have that kind of regulation. Just imagine a moving-truck driver coming in from California. He gets here, steps out of his truck and lights a cigarette. How is he supposed to know that in this little corner of the world you can't do that?" she said.
Muller disagreed, saying the village's security officers, who work in single-person shifts around the clock, have the ability to enforce local ordinances and this would be no different. And, the mayor said, the hope is that people will know they're not supposed to smoke and won't. He noted that the village, which has 5,000 residents living mostly in high-rises, has posted "no smoking" signs during outdoor concerts in public places and there have been no violations. Plus, he said, jurisdictions across the country have effectively banned smoking in certain public places, such as beaches or near schools.
"This is intended, bluntly, to discourage people from smoking," Muller said. "We can do it in areas under our responsibility, and clearly the streets and sidewalks and public parks are areas under our responsibility."
Tavani said she agrees that public officials should be doing all they can to reduce smoking, "but they shouldn't force behaviors on people."
Still, it remains unclear how the County Council will respond. Subin (D-At Large) and other council members are on recess for much of this month. Muller said he has not spoken with any council members about the anti-smoking measure to gauge support.
The County Council's anti-smoking views appear to have gotten tougher since 1996. Last year, the council approved a ban on smoking in restaurants by a 5 to 4 vote. That bill was overturned in court earlier this year in a decision that council members said would be appealed. In 1996 a similar proposal to ban smoking in restaurants was defeated by the council.
County Council spokesman Patrick Lacefield said the village anti-smoking proposal issue has not yet been placed on the agenda for this fall, but it will be. "The County Council has consistently shown it is concerned about the ill effects of smoking, and this issue will be considered," he said. "Obviously, we take into account the wishes of the municipal government."