Showdown over smoking Government gets tough with Clyde's restaurant over non-compliance.

March 04, 1997

BY PROCESS OF ELIMINATION, one must conclude that Clyde's restaurant is flouting Howard County's tough anti-smoking ban only to get the matter into court.

After all, could the well-known eatery in the heart of Columbia's Town Center have thought the county would not catch or fine violators? Not likely. The administration of Charles I. Ecker clearly stated that it would enforce the measure.

Was there ignorance of the law? No. How about a fear of requesting customers not to smoke? Not when the host asks patrons if they prefer the smoking or non-smoking section.

Howard government took an extraordinary step last week and sued the restaurant in Circuit Court for repeatedly violating the ban. Officials seek a ruling that would force Clyde's to comply with the ban until it builds a ventilated area for customers who smoke.

Smokers who believe that increasingly strict laws are putting them on the outside are sure to cheer for Clyde's "right" to allow smoking, although it would subject non-smokers to second-hand fumes. Perhaps Clyde's believes a court will rule that state or federal law prohibits local lawmakers from passing a measure designed to protect their citizens' health in bars and restaurants.

The County Council passed this region's toughest public smoking law in 1993 in light of mounting evidence pointing to the hazards of second-hand smoke. The best hope for attorney Bruce Bereano, who has represented the tobacco industry for years and now is counsel for Clyde's, might be for a judge to dismiss the ban on a technicality.

"There's no real legal question as to whether a county can do it," contends John Banzhaf, a Georgetown University law professor and executive director of Action on Smoking and Health. "There are no statutes or constitutional arguments."

Mr. Banzhaf adds that courts have upheld government's authority to pass measures to protect the public. Not everyone likes them, but they serve a clear public purpose.

Howard had no choice but to vigorously enforce its law. Not to have done so would be unfair to nonsmokers, as well as businesses that have undertaken the expense to comply.

Pub Date: 3/04/97

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