Montgomery County residents unhappy with proposed smoking ban

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Photo - Man smokes a cigarette
Man smokes a cigarette
Local,Maryland,Kate Jacobson,Montgomery County

Legislation to tighten up a smoking ban on Montgomery County property is drawing ire from some residents, who consider it a "nanny state" measure, and tobacco-related businesses.

The bill, introduced by County Councilwoman Nancy Floreen, D-at-large, would make it illegal to smoke on all county property, excluding rights of way such as sidewalks and bus hangers.

Some residents have expressed outrage over more liberties being reduced in the county. In an email to the council, resident Bill Moser said the county already imposes laws to restrict residents' choices and asked where the line would be drawn.

"To be consistent with the latest idea, it should also be illegal to consume on county property food containing trans fats ... genetically modified corn snacks ... and sugary sodas more than 12 ounces," Moser wrote. "It should also be illegal to wear inadequate clothing in the wintertime."

Debra Robins, owner of Century Distributors, testified at a public hearing Tuesday that 82 percent of her distribution business relies on tobacco products. Another ban limiting where consumers can smoke would hurt her business, and if the county implements the ban, she might have to consider moving elsewhere to keep her business viable, like Virginia.

"Why at this time do we need another bill to limit where consumers can smoke?" she asked council members. "Why is this even a discussion?"

Other residents, such as Christine Feinthel, testified Tuesday that the smoking ban should be strengthened to include bus hangers. She said she is sick of waiting for buses and inhaling unwanted secondhand smoke. John O'Hara, representing the Maryland Group Against Smokers Pollution, also testified in favor of the ban.

The trend to ban smoking on county-owned property extends across the Potomac River into Fairfax County, where lawmakers have expressed interest in implementing a similar smoking ban. Legislation there was introduced after a failed attempt by County Supervisor Gerry Hyland, D-Mount Vernon, to ban smoking by county employees altogether.

Montgomery County officials maintain a tighter ban would reduce smoking and create a healthier environment for county employees. Late last year, the county approved a smoking ban on public spaces such as playgrounds.

Councilman Phil Andrews, D-Rockville/Gaithersburg, said the legislation wasn't necessarily intended to attack smokers for smoking, but to protect nonsmokers from being subjected to secondhand smoke.

Resident Gina Walzer wrote to the council, questioning the intentions of the ban. She said reducing smoking in public entranceways was understandable, and said Floreen was commendable for wanting to reduce cancer. But she was skeptical that banning smoking in certain places would work.

"I call 'shenanigans,' " Walzer wrote. "Arguing that banning smoking on county property will reduce cancer is naive."

kjacobson@washingtonexaminer.com

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