Smoke ban in bars voided

Montgomery law would have been strictest in state

June 17, 2000|By Scott Shane | Scott Shane,SUN STAFF

A judge struck down yesterday Montgomery County's scheduled ban on smoking in restaurants and bars, which would have been the strictest anti-smoking measure in Maryland and one of the most sweeping in the country.

The decision by Montgomery Circuit Judge Ann S. Harrington was a major victory for restaurateurs and bar owners who said the ban, set to take effect in 2002, would violate smokers' rights and hurt business.

"The ruling is remarkable in its depth and breadth," said Thomas Humber, president of the National Smokers Alliance, which organized and paid for the legal challenge. "It proves that when these bans get to court, judges will uphold the law and ignore the rhetoric."

Supporters of the ban said the ruling was flawed and flies in the face of public opinion.

"We're incredibly disappointed," said Michaeline R. Fedder, president of the Smoke Free Maryland coalition and advocacy director for the American Heart Association. "There have been so many surveys showing people want this kind of legislation."

Anti-smoking advocates said the legal battle is not over.

"We're very confident that portions of this ruling will be tossed out on appeal," said Eric Gally, a lobbyist for the American Heart Association and the American Cancer Society.

The County Council will meet Tuesday in executive session to decide on a response, said council attorney Michael E. Faden.

Harrington ruled that the County Council exceeded its powers in passing the ban as a health regulation, a move that in effect bypassed a veto by County Executive Douglas M. Duncan. She also said the ban contradicts state law and violates the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution by exempting private clubs.

The ability of Maryland smokers to light up with a drink or meal in public has been steadily narrowed since 1995, when the state imposed a ban on workplace smoking. By law, the ban does not apply to bars, tables adjoining bars in restaurants and separate smoking rooms, which cannot exceed 40 percent of a restaurant's seating capacity.

Montgomery County's regulation would go beyond that, outlawing all smoking in bars and restaurants. The measure resembles California law, which is the strictest in the nation.

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