Montgomery County lawmakers consider more smoking bans

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Photo - Discarded cigarettes (Examiner file photo)
Discarded cigarettes (Examiner file photo)
Local,Maryland,Rachel Baye

Montgomery County lawmakers are considering new ways to prevent people from smoking, including more restrictions on where smoking is allowed.

"I'd like to get the smoking rate in Montgomery County to zero," County Councilman George Leventhal, D-at large, said at a meeting of the county's Health and Human Services Committee, which he heads. "Whether we do that through legislation is not clear."

Last year, Montgomery County banned smoking in apartment buildings' common spaces, like laundry rooms, hallways and lobbies, as well as within 25 feet of buildings' playgrounds.

Maryland, Virginia and the District also prohibit smoking in enclosed public places, with some differences in each jurisdiction.

Compared with other parts of Maryland, Montgomery County has the lowest rate of adult smokers. In 2010, 10.5 percent of adults in Maryland smoked, compared with 5 percent in Montgomery, according to state data.

But county officials made clear at Thursday's meeting that they don't think the existing restrictions are enough.

Citing complaints from residents in apartment and condo buildings who say they were forced to sleep in their cars to avoid exposure to secondhand smoke, state Del. Ben Kramer, D-Silver Spring, suggested the county consider a ban on smoking in multifamily residences, or at the very least get secondhand smoke included in the county's "nuisance statute," which would enable residents to take issues regarding unwanted secondhand smoke to court.

A statewide bill Kramer pushed in the spring that would have labeled second-hand smoke a nuisance failed.

The county's advisory Commission on Health has recommended the county ban smoking in front of stores and at shopping centers and advocate for an increase in the state tobacco tax to deter people from buying cigarettes and other forms of tobacco.

But further restrictions would intrude on adults' abilities to make their own decisions, said tobacco lobbyist Bruce Bereano, who fought the apartment building ban the county passed last year.

"Whether the people of Montgomery County like it or not, smoking by adults is a legal, lawful activity, and what Councilman Leventhal thinks and his views about tobacco are really rather irrelevant," he said. "People ought to be left alone to run their own lives."

rbaye@washingtonexaminer.com

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