Md. town moves to ban smoking - even outside

A Washington suburb is seeking to ban smoking in all public spaces maintained by the local government - including sidewalks, streets, and patches of grass.

The ban, if passed, would give Friendship Heights, a neighborhood of 5,000 in Chevy Chase, Md., the most extensive restrictions on smoking in the country.

Already, roughly 60 jurisdictions nationwide have outdoor smoking bans, but the proposed restrictions in Friendship Heights are the most stringent yet, according to Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights, a group that works to limit nonsmokers' exposure to secondhand smoke. The other bans are all limited to enclosed public spaces, such as stadiums or parks, and do not extend to open areas like streets or sidewalks.

Under the Friendship Heights ban, people caught smoking or discarding tobacco products in publicly owned areas would be subject to a $100 fine.

The Montgomery County Council is expected to vote on the measure Dec. 12.

Friendship Heights Mayor Alfred Muller, the man largely responsible for pushing the ban through the local village council, says the goal is not only to deter smoking, but to protect civil rights.

Mr. Muller, a physician, cites the case of an asthmatic resident who often has to cross the street to avoid smokers.

But opponents of the ban say scant evidence exists that smoking outdoors endangers the health of passers-by. They accuse Muller of trying to inhibit personal freedom.

"A whiff of smoke in someone's face is not a crime or something we need to worry about," says Cleonice Tavani, president of the Friendship Heights Village Civic Association. "We do not need to be a police state."

Ms. Tavani says opposition to the ban is strong. She accuses Muller and the village council of trying to impose a regulation in defiance of a majority of the neighborhood's residents.

The village council first approved the ban four years ago, but pulled it from the county council before a vote could be taken, after facing vehement opposition.

Muller says a friendlier environment to anti-smoking legislation, both locally and nationwide, led the village council to reintroduce the ban this year. He cites the county council's approval last year of a ban on smoking in restaurants, along with the national tobacco settlement of 1998.

"Public areas were not built for people to do whatever they want," he says.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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