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MontCo panel urges broader smoking ban

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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,Rachel Baye

Montgomery County should ban smoking in front of stores and at shopping centers, the county's Commission on Health is recommending.

The commission is also urging the county to support an increase in the state tobacco tax to deter people from buying cigarettes. The county could also require businesses to provide designated smoking areas to limit secondhand smoke, said commission Chairman Marcos Pesquera.

Montgomery County last year banned smoking in common areas -- including laundry rooms, hallways and lobbies of apartment buildings -- and within 25 feet of playgrounds that serve apartment buildings.

Maryland, Virginia and the District all have bans on smoking in enclosed public places, with some minor variations.

Montgomery County's Department of Health and Human Services will release its own recommendations on extending the smoking ban by the end of the month, Director Uma Ahluwalia said.

The County Council's Health and Human Services Committee will also consider additional smoking regulations in the fall, said Chairman George Leventhal, D-at large.

Smoking restrictions have been controversial in the county. When the County Council tried to regulate smoking a decade ago, then-County Executive Doug Duncan vetoed it.

"We don't have the authority to ban smoking in Montgomery County," Leventhal said. "I think we have to re-evaluate how far we want to go."

Tobacco lobbyist Bruce Bereano, who fought Montgomery County's most recent ban on smoking in apartment buildings, denounced proposals to extend the ban, calling it an "obnoxious governmental intrusion into the lives of people that live in Montgomery County and adults that make the decision that they want to smoke."

Further restrictions could hurt businesses, he said.

Gabriel Maier, the general manager of the restaurant Olazzo in Silver Spring, worried about the effect of expanding the ban.

"We do have a large number of customers that do appreciate being able to smoke on the patio" in front of the restaurant, he said. "It would hurt our business in the short term."

But others, like former smoker Johnson Lee, who owns Joe's Record Paradise in Silver Spring, said a ban on sidewalk smoking could be a welcome change.

"You shouldn't be able to smoke when there's kids around or other people," he said.

rbaye@washingtonexaminer.com

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