Bill introduced to ban smoking on all Montgomery County property

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Photo - The Montgomery County Commission on Health is pushing for a broader smoking ban in the county. (Examiner file photo)
The Montgomery County Commission on Health is pushing for a broader smoking ban in the county. (Examiner file photo)
Local,Maryland,Kate Jacobson

Smoking on land owned by Montgomery County would be banned under legislation introduced at the Montgomery County Council on Tuesday.

County Councilwoman Nancy Floreen, D-at large, introduced the bill, which would change the county health code to make it illegal to smoke on property owned or leased by the county, with the exception of public rights of way, such as sidewalks.

Smoking was already prohibited inside public buildings and in enclosed spaces. The proposed ban would include outside properties, including green spaces around county buildings, public plazas and parking garages. Exceptions to the law would include public sidewalks and bus hangars.

Also at the County Council
• Whooping cough is on the rise in the county. Dr. Ulder Tillman, chief of Montgomery County Public Health Services, reported to the council 60 confirmed cases of whooping cough were reported in the county this year. That's up from the 18 confirmed cases in 2011. Though it's not clear why the illness is increasing, she said residents need to take caution and make sure they're caught up on all vaccinations.
• A bill was introduced that would improve tree canopy conservation. If approved, it would establish standards and procedures to maintain the tree canopy, as well as establish a fund for canopy conservation projects. Councilwoman Valerie Ervin, D-Silver Spring, recommended the council work with nonprofits to better steer goals and projects the county wants to accomplish.

Floreen said expanding the smoking ban is an important initiative for the county, which already bans smoking in bars and restaurants. In 2011, the council voted to ban smoking in apartment common areas and playgrounds.

The current proposal also might ban smoking on county-owned golf courses.

Floreen said her legislation coincides with what other governing bodies are doing around the region -- including a proposed increase in the cigarette tax in Maryland.

Health advocates are pushing for a $1 increase in the current $2 cigarette tax. In the 2012 General Assembly, lawmakers approved tax increases on noncigarette tobacco, such as snuff and small cigars, from 15 to 30 percent.

"It's a regionwide concern," Floreen said. "In Fairfax [County], they are looking at some additional smoking-related initiatives in relation to county employees."

As first reported by The Washington Examiner, Fairfax officials are considering requiring all county-employed smokers to enroll in wellness programs to snuff out the habit.

But Paul Spence, co-owner of Bethesda Tobacco Inc., said further limiting the rights of smokers is concerning. Though his business doesn't sell cigarettes -- and cigar smokers normally don't smoke on public property anyway -- he worries about what the next step might be.

"It's an escalating type of thing," he said. "Soon they'll be banning it in your own apartment, or condominium or home. That limits greatly where you can enjoy a legal product."

Spence said customers of the store have voiced their displeasure with the ban, especially if it were to include golf courses. He said cigar smokers commonly enjoy smoking while out on the green.

About 8 percent of adults reported using cigarettes in Montgomery County in 2010, according to the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. That's down from the 13.2 percent of adults who reported using tobacco products in 2000.

Councilman Phil Andrews, D-Gaithersburg/Rockville, said encouraging people to quit smoking was an important initiative. Andrews helped champion the county's smoke-free restaurant law in 2003 and was co-sponsor of the current bill.

Most council members showed support for the bill -- including Andrews, George Leventhal, D-at large, Nancy Navarro, D-Eastern County, Craig Rice, D-Germantown, Marc Elrich, D-at large and Hans Riemer, D-at large.

kjacobson@washingtonexaminer.com

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