Smoking Ban Passes DC Council

By a 12 to 1 margin, the DC City Council has expanded the city’s smoking ban to include restaurants, so long as business does not drop by 25%. Bars and clubs will also be required to add ventilation or separate accommodations by 1 January 2007, though the requirements are NOT currently waived for cigar and hookah bars, Councilman Graham is working on an amendment for the second reading on 3 January 2006.

I do not speaking for Metroblogging at large, nor this site as a whole, but as a citizen and independent of the site I write for, I welcome this move and congratulate the DC Council for making the right decision. Second-hand smoke is really one of the most frustrating thing about going out to a bar or club, and I will probably work to take advantage of this more, now that I can go out and have a great dinner and a few drinks in a local establishment without coming home reeking of second hand smoke and tobacco. I hope that the amendment allowing hookah bars and cigar bars to continue to allow their patrons to smoke continues, though, as those are places clearly designed for the purpose of smoking.

Many will say that this threatens the local eateries and bars in the District. Data from Montgomery County suggests the oppposite:

in the 12 months after the smoking ban took effect in October 2003, state sales tax receipts for Montgomery restaurants grew by $4.4 million or 7.6 percent, compared to the 12 months leading up to the ban. Applications to open new restaurants in the county also increased from 80 to 87, up 8.7 percent, according to the county’s public health service.

While data is not conclusive (and some data is in fact contradictory), I would have to say that I firmly believe this to be good for the city, and good for metropolitan area at large. Perhaps Arlington County and PG County should follow?

44 Comments so far

  1. Be_stress-free (unregistered) on December 6th, 2005 @ 4:16 pm

    Hear! hear! Great news. As a former social smoker, I am very happy. AND as an Arlington Co resident, I agree that it should move with the trend. Here’s to a healthier 2006!


  2. Heather (unregistered) on December 6th, 2005 @ 5:17 pm

    I have to disagree about this being a good thing. While I am not a smoker and don’t necessarily enjoy being around cigarette smoke, what I enjoy even less is having the government as my nanny.


  3. BAV (unregistered) on December 6th, 2005 @ 5:33 pm

    Awww yeeeeahhhh!! The ban makes this DC runner’s lungs very happy. :)

    Heather, I would share your concern about the government being my nanny if the smoking ban extended to everywhere. As it is, people can smoke in their homes, outdoors, in designated areas of bars and clubs (or all over them if they’re properly ventilated), and, if Jim Graham’s proposed amendment passes, cigar and hookah bars, which, as Tom rightly pointed out, have smoking as their main purpose. As the ban only relates to where one can smoke, and doesn’t extend the government into the privacy of my home, I don’t think it creates any sort of slippery slope that could lead to a nanny state.


  4. Tom Bridge (unregistered) on December 6th, 2005 @ 5:37 pm

    This isnt about nanny-state-ism, Heather, it’s about consideration for others. Smoking isn’t considerate. Ever.


  5. wayan (unregistered) on December 6th, 2005 @ 5:50 pm

    WWWOOOOHHHOOOOOOO!!!!!!

    Smoke Free DC at last!! I’m gonna take a deep breath of fresh air when it goes into effect. When is that btw? Please say before 2007!


  6. ed (unregistered) on December 6th, 2005 @ 5:56 pm

    While data is not conclusive

    That’s an understatement. The data is in fact meaningless, without controlling for a host of other factors that might impact the restaurant business.

    And it would an extremely counterintuitive result: if a smoking ban really were so good for business, why wouldn’t restaurant/bar owners implement one voluntarily?

    if Jim Graham’s proposed amendment passes, cigar and hookah bars, which, as Tom rightly pointed out, have smoking as their main purpose.

    But the rationale of the ban–at least supposedly–isn’t so much to protect customers (who, after all, don’t have to go to a particular bar or restaurant; and in any case who wouldn’t typically spend more than a few hours exposed to the second-hand smoke from time to time), but to protect workers who are exposed for long stretches, day after day.

    The fact that supporters are talking about excepting cigar bars et al. kind of undermines that rationale, and makes it look like the real motivation is to impose an aesthetic preference (cigarette smoke stinks!) rather than solve a public health issue.


  7. Don (unregistered) on December 6th, 2005 @ 6:21 pm

    It doesn’t undermine that rationale when you consider that cigar and hookah bars will never be anything but a tiny percentage of the total restaurant and bar market, still leaving the majority of locations for a server to work free of second-hand smoke.

    As far as why don’t restaurants do it voluntarily, simple: businesses are cowards. Nobody wants to be the first one on the block to take a chance and potentially lose business, even though it seems that businesses rebound just fine with the restriction.

    Mind you, it’s hard to be sure of that – competing studies abound and as a friend once commented to me, finding an unbiased tobacco study is almost as hard as finding a sober Kennedy.


  8. Tom Bridge (unregistered) on December 6th, 2005 @ 6:49 pm

    Wayan, I think it’s after the second reading? That would be early January 2006. Finally, an issue we can BOTH agree on!


  9. Joseph LeBlanc (unregistered) on December 6th, 2005 @ 8:17 pm

    Supposing bans increase sales, here’s my theory:

    Without such a ban, people particularly sensitive to smoke have to make sure they pick a smoke-free place to eat ahead of time. And if this particlar place is full, they have to pick another, only to find that it’s billowing with smoke. Lather, rinse, repeat a few times and before long they’re back home making spaghetti.

    With a ban, you don’t have to worry. People who don’t like smoke or are sometimes a little more smoke-adverse are more likely to be impulse sales on restaurants.


  10. Heather (unregistered) on December 6th, 2005 @ 8:23 pm

    “If a smoking ban really were so good for business, why wouldn’t restaurant/bar owners implement one voluntarily?”

    EXACTLY. And yes, I do think this is a slippery slope. Again – I’m not saying I like cigarette smoke, and yes, I do think some people are inconsiderate about their smoking behavior, but I have a BIG problem with the government telling individuals and businesses what they CAN’T do, especially when the act itself isn’t illegal.

    I would LOVE if more restaurants implemented self-imposed bans. It is shocking to me that very few restaurants have experimented with this yet, because I definitely think there is a market for it.

    And don’t get me started on the hands free cell phone law. This all falls into the same category…


  11. BAV (unregistered) on December 6th, 2005 @ 8:55 pm

    I would not so much say that the government is telling individuals what they can’t do, as telling them where they can do what they want to do, namely, smoke, without creating a public health hazard for others. I see it as being sort of analogous to our First Amendment jurisprudence, under which the government can’t ban speech based on its content except in a few circumstances (e.g. incitment to clear and present danger, obscenity) but can regulate the time, place, or manner of said speech. Similarly, DC is not banning smoking outright; it is merely restricting the venues in which people may legally smoke.


  12. Heather (unregistered) on December 6th, 2005 @ 10:07 pm

    The problem is that the venues where it is being restricted are privately owned businesses – not government property.


  13. UnusualCandor (unregistered) on December 7th, 2005 @ 12:40 am

    Even though I do not smoke, I have a real problem with this. You do not have the right to go into a bar or restaurant. If you do not like the smoking in a place, go somewhere else.

    Bars and restaurants already have too many regulations on them. Why are we now telling them what their patrons can do.

    Since I tend to go to bars with people that smoke, I have a feeling that we will be staying on the freedom loving side of the Potomac.


  14. Tom Bridge (unregistered) on December 7th, 2005 @ 7:29 am

    But this is a public health problem, guys. Second hand smoke has proven effects on non smokers, and frankly, we like to dine out and have a few beers with our friends without terribly polluting our lungs. My liver can take the abuse, my lungs cannot.

    The problem here is that their patrons also adversely affect the staff that work in them, who have a right not to be slowly poisoned.

    This isn’t nanny-state-ism, it’s common courtesy that smokers just can’t recognize. It would be nice if there was a way to do it without legal action, but club owners and resteraunteurs are a bunch of spineless saps that won’t take action on their own.


  15. Stacey (unregistered) on December 7th, 2005 @ 9:12 am

    A lot of things have been done in the name of “public health” that clearly undermine privacy and personal responsibility and choice as principles. We don’t have the right to go in to a bar or restaurant, nor do we have the right to work at one. In the hypothetical where I want to work at another public affairs company but choose not to because I know I’d work every weekend of my life which would certainly be a health factor, then that’s my choice – I choose not to work there.

    I don’t smoke – and in fact, I’ll be straight up, I hate smoke. I hate how it makes my clothes and hair smell, it’s gross. That’s why I might choose a smoke-free establishment to hang out in regularly. In fact, I’ll employ the free market argument as an earlier commentor did – if the market demands it, establishments will create it. And when they do, we’ll see how their business goes – my guess is that it will stay the same or increase. But if not, then the market would still have been “right.”


  16. Tom Bridge (unregistered) on December 7th, 2005 @ 9:27 am

    Ordinarily, I’m a free market guy. I heart capitalism. I think that generally, the market will provide. However, that is NOT the case with smokefree establishments.

    If personal responsibility allowed me to beat the shit out of smokers, I would agree with you. But it doesn’t, even though smokers are causing me harm by smoking on the stool next to me. I can’t revisit that harm upon them personally, which is a mighty shame :)


  17. Ben (unregistered) on December 7th, 2005 @ 9:30 am

    Obesity is also a public health problem. But if the guv’ment prohibbited deep fried everything, rich desserts, and limited portion control to no more than X ounces per serving, somebody gonna get stabbed in the EYE.

    Then the Lung.

    Then the other eye.

    And while I wholeheatedly agree that there is DEFINATLY a market for smoke-free restaurants, I’m not so sure about smoke free bars.


  18. wayan (unregistered) on December 7th, 2005 @ 9:57 am

    Smoke free everything – for health first, business second.

    Health: smoking = lung cancer. any questions? And this my health – as a nonsmoker and waiter – not just the smoker that we’re talking about. Just in from New Mexico: a smoking ban in bars dropped heart attack rates by 27% – nonsmoker & smoker heart attacks.

    Business: Montgomery county bar sales went up post-ban. NYC went up. Why? Because we go out more, drink more, live more when we don’t have to be worried about health, above, or the horse voice, watery eyes, and stinky clothes the next day.


  19. Don (unregistered) on December 7th, 2005 @ 11:15 am

    I wonder how Heather feels about health inspections and regulations the govern “privately owned businesses.” Do only government workers deserve safety regulations? To be asbestos-free? How about building codes? Those bars and restaurants were required to get permits and inspections when they put up their walls, installed their gas stoves and purchased their food. Their employees have to wash their hands and their kitchens are inspected for cleanliness and rodents regularly.

    If it’s just requiring things of the patrons that bothers you, do you think the requirement for shirts and shoes is unreasonable?

    And as far as the obesity comparison, when someone jamming brownie sunday in their face raises MY cholestorol we can talk about regulating it.


  20. Heather (unregistered) on December 7th, 2005 @ 11:47 am

    My problem, Don, is not with government regulating things when it makes sense. But just because a law is intended to do good, doesn’t mean it’s a good law. It would be absolutely RIDICULOUS if the government decided to make a law about shirts and shoes being required. But the government doesn’t regulate it, and that’s why restaurants have their own policies about it, and it works just fine. Instead of regulate this regulate that, I’d prefer to fund a government that provides incentives to businesses who are smoke-free (tax breaks, etc) rather than just creating a blanket law that takes away freedom of choice to do something that is legal (ie the act of smoking).


  21. ed (unregistered) on December 7th, 2005 @ 12:00 pm

    I wonder how Heather feels about health inspections and regulations the govern “privately owned businesses.” Do only government workers deserve safety regulations?

    I agree with Don’s point here, and think that protecting workers from second-hand smoke is completely legitimate, and I’m extremely sympathetic. Although there may not be a “right to work” at a given place, nobody would deny that peoples’ employment choices are often constrained by a variety of factors; that fact underlies and legitimizes much of government regulation of the workplace in general.

    But, as I pointed out above, nobody really believes that this ban is primarily about the workers, and the proposed exception for hookah bars and cigar bars makes it explicit. These establishments might only be a small percentage of restaurants & bars, as Don points out, but then restaurants & bars are only a small percentage of workplaces in general: if the idea is we must protect bartenders/waitpeople b/c they can’t just up and leave to find a smoke-free job, why should we assume that hookah/cigar-bar bartenders/waitpeople can?

    Building codes and food safety regulations are an irrelevant anaology. They protect customers rather than (primarily) workers, but they are less about regulating behavior than about solving information problems: there’s simply no way customers can reasonably find out on their own whether a restaurant’s kitchen is rodent-free or if cooks are washing their hands; if they could, there’d be no need for government intervention, as nobody would eat there and the market would quickly take care of things. These regulations, in other words, are a substitute for a transparency that would otherwise be unachievable. Whether an establishment is smoking or not is easy enough for a (potential) customer to discover.


  22. Alan (unregistered) on December 7th, 2005 @ 12:17 pm

    First of all…. each city is unique. NYC’s smoking ban situation is different than DC. NYC clubs/bars have to deal with ppl smoking outside. For the ppl living in the bar neighborhoods, this creates a lot of noise disturbance. 2nd, bars/clubs are in fact losing money by letting ppl go out and smoke. These ppl would go to a local grocery and buy liquor and drink it b4 going back in; thus less money in business owners’ pockets. What has this ban led to in NYC…. Simply put bar/club owners letting ppl smoke inside and paying a fine every night b/c it is cheaper than abiding by the smoking ban.
    As for DC, bar businesses dont make as much money in NYC and would be affected financially from this ban. People have a right to smoke/not smoke. Businesses should also have the right to choose. If your lungs cant handle smoke, simply dont go to a smoking place….. End of story!

    Why are people making it such a complicated issue?
    If u work in a bar and have complained about 2nd hand smoke, then why did u accept to work there in the 1st place?


  23. Tom Bridge (unregistered) on December 7th, 2005 @ 12:32 pm

    Alan, first of all, your spelling is atrocious. As someone who works for a large business, I’m appalled.

    Each city IS unique, which is why restaurants in Mont’y County benefitted from the ban, and why I hope to see the same thing in Neighboring DC. If you’re living in a bar neighborhood, you’re already used to the noise, and you knew better when you moved there.

    As for the second hand smoke argument, I’m inclined to agree, but they should have the right to work in a smokefree workplace the same that I do here in my office.


  24. Heather (unregistered) on December 7th, 2005 @ 12:50 pm

    I don’t think anyone who has posted a comment here disagrees with the notion that second hand smoke sucks. The issue here is about how it should or should not be regulated. And to Tom’s point about having the right to work in a smoke-free workplace…the fact is that DC does NOT currently have a law that restricts people from smoking in private office buildings. But guess what – most office buildings ban it anyways! Again, this is proof that this law is unnnecessary, we should let the market deal with this problem, and if the DC government is truly concerned about people’s health, then they should come up with a more creative solution to addressing this issue (such as the tax incentives I mentioned in a previous post). But of course, I’m not holding my breath for the day when the DC government is willing to forego tax revenue for the sake of public health…


  25. Tom Bridge (unregistered) on December 7th, 2005 @ 12:51 pm

    If there were establishments in DC that actually banned smoking, Heather, I’d agree.

    There aren’t.

    Good law. Move on.


  26. Heather (unregistered) on December 7th, 2005 @ 12:58 pm

    “Move on.”

    I thought this was a public discussion forum. I guess I was wrong.


  27. Joe (unregistered) on December 7th, 2005 @ 12:59 pm

    This smoking ban is just America’s way to eventually rid the country of smokers.

    What they should ban are fat people in America.


  28. Tom Bridge (unregistered) on December 7th, 2005 @ 1:03 pm

    I’m not saying it’s not Heather, I’m just saying I’m done with discussion. Normally, I’m all for the freedom of the marketplace. Except when the marketplace ignores from convenience a significant class of people and does them harm.

    Kinda like a lot of workplaces, before sexual harassment laws.

    And “Joe”, I realize you’re the same guy as before, you’re using the same email address. I’m all FOR banning smoking at the border. If folks wanna drink themselves to death, great, but when you want to pollute my personal space with that noxious smoke you spew, that becomes a real problem from me.

    As for “banning obesity”, I’m all for a move toward healthier lifestyles, my own included.


  29. asdfasd (unregistered) on December 7th, 2005 @ 1:11 pm

    Tom,
    Smoking might do you some good. It would help shed a couple pounds from that flabby stomach of yours.


  30. Tom Bridge (unregistered) on December 7th, 2005 @ 1:16 pm

    It’s a good thing you used the Very Same IP address, Alan, er, Joe, or asdfasd.

    Find somewhere else to troll.


  31. Don (unregistered) on December 7th, 2005 @ 1:21 pm

    if the idea is we must protect bartenders/waitpeople b/c they can’t just up and leave to find a smoke-free job, why should we assume that hookah/cigar-bar bartenders/waitpeople can?

    I think it’s because they can up and go do the same job but at a different place if a majority percentage of the workplaces are safe. They can do the same job with the same skillset rather than saying “don’t want to breathe smoke? Don’t be in food service at all.”


  32. Tom_Bridgeisaloser (unregistered) on December 7th, 2005 @ 1:23 pm

    Hey Tom,

    Since I can’t troll over and pollute your personal space with noxious smoke, I might as well make fun of you.


  33. Tiff (unregistered) on December 7th, 2005 @ 1:23 pm

    Hey look! A personal attack on a commenter based on an irrelevant physical characteristic! Weight-based, no less!

    Here, let me invoke Godwin’s Law and really send this discussion into the toilet.

    OMFG UR ALL NAZIS!!11!!eleventy-one! LOLOLOL

    How many comments on one post at Metroblogging DC does it take before the schoolyard taunting starts? I guess we just found out…


  34. Tom Bridge (unregistered) on December 7th, 2005 @ 1:27 pm

    Keep it up, troll, you’re only digging your own grave.

    Surely SAIC can track who’s viewing which sites through their proxy?

    You’re only digging your own grave here.


  35. ed (unregistered) on December 7th, 2005 @ 1:34 pm

    Except when the marketplace ignores from convenience a significant class of people and does them harm.

    That sounds like one heckuva big “except”. Aren’t there lots of significant classes of people who are harmed by the market?

    but when you want to pollute my personal space with that noxious smoke you spew

    What? People are coming into your home and smoking without your permission? That is indeed troubling.

    Oh, wait, perhaps you just confused “someone else’s place of business” with “my personal space”. Easy enough mistake.


  36. ed (unregistered) on December 7th, 2005 @ 1:39 pm

    I think it’s because they can up and go do the same job but at a different place if a majority percentage of the workplaces are safe. They can do the same job with the same skillset rather than saying “don’t want to breathe smoke? Don’t be in food service at all.”

    True as far as it goes, but that’s not very far. We don’t say that, for example, Manufacuring Company A is free to expose its workers to all kinds of hazards on the factory floor, because if the workers don’t want to be exposed to them they can just pick up and work for Manufacturing Companies B-Z.

    And if we did, the situation we’d have–assuming that most if not all workers are rational and therefore prefer not to spend all their time at work exposed to second-hand smoke–is that the workers relegated to the cigar/hookah bars are those with the least mobility, i.e., those the regulations are (supposedly) most designed to protect.


  37. Don (unregistered) on December 7th, 2005 @ 2:26 pm

    Well in ways we do, Ed. Certain manufacturing jobs are more dangerous than others. OSHA requires those big diamonds with 4 diamonds in them indicating danger from flame, chemicals, etc. There’s certain minimum standards but to the extent that it’s possible we protect everyone and inform everyone else.

    And if we’re going to keep making parallels, the reality is that no business has to go smokefree if they don’t want to. What they have to do is upgrade their air handling if they want to continue to allow smoking, just as any factory working with chemicals that are harmful to breath has to have air handling adequate to the task. Process ice cream? Not necessary. Petrochemicals? Necessary.

    If the gloom and doom crowd is right about smokers staying home if they can’t smoke then some clever souls can clean up by being in the minority of businesses to do the upgrade. You’ll have customers coming out of your ears since you’ll be the commodity: the place they can go and smoke.


  38. UnusualCandor (unregistered) on December 7th, 2005 @ 3:53 pm

    This idea that this smoking ban is a public health hazard is in many ways bogus. There are many non-smoking employees who ask to work in the smoking sections of restaurants. Why you ask? Because the tips tend to be better. Everyone on God’s green earth knows that smoking is not smart. They know that second hand smoke can be harmful. But there are people that like the extra tips that come from the smoking section.

    People are not forced to work anywhere. DC has a relatively low unemployment rate of 6.1%. That is close to the economics stat of 5%, which is consider full employment. If someone wants a job where there is no smoking, they can get it.

    As a drinker or eater, I do not have the right to be there. If I don’t like the fact that one place allows smoking, I can go somewhere else. There are choices.

    The issue of smoking bans is consistent with what is happening all over in our society. A few people are offended by the actions of someone, so they feel they are being wronged and must end the action that is offending them. Folks, you do not have a right against being offended. Shit happens. Deal with it. People that talk on their cell phones and tap away on their Blackberries while in a restaurant offcnd me. But I don’t want to ban them.


  39. Tom Bridge (unregistered) on December 7th, 2005 @ 3:58 pm

    You glossed over the entire argument concerning second hand smoke, there, Mr. Candor.


  40. ed (unregistered) on December 7th, 2005 @ 3:59 pm

    Certain manufacturing jobs are more dangerous than others. OSHA requires those big diamonds with 4 diamonds in them indicating danger from flame, chemicals, etc.

    Okay, fine, manufacturing was a bad analogy, since there’s such a diversity of environments, in which the dangers are inherent to the work in question. Perhaps a better analogy would have been office workers, and some arbitrary non-inherent hazard H. If the general rule was that H was prohibited, we wouldn’t allow it in a small percentage of offices, on the theory that people who worked in an H-afflicted office could move somewhere else in the world of office work.

    What they have to do is upgrade their air handling if they want to continue to allow smoking, just as any factory working with chemicals that are harmful to breath has to have air handling adequate to the task.

    If that’s the case (I haven’t yet seen the text of the ordinance, and press reports have been sketchy), well, I think that’s a great idea, no objections here.

    But I still don’t see why hookah/cigar bars would get an exception if the idea is to make workers as safe as reasonably possible; the air filtration option’s there for them, too. As I said, I’d support this as a worker safety measure, but not as a protect-fussy-customers-from-stinky-clothes-and-some-second-hand-smoke-a-few-evenings-a-week measure.

    Almost all comment I’ve seen, however, strongly suggests that the motivation is really the second, and as long as there’s disparate treatment of cigar/hookah bars (“we non-smokers wouldn’t go in there anyway, so, employees notwithstanding, who cares about making them install filters?”), I think that’s a pretty inescapable conclusion. And I think it’s pretty shabby to cloak this kind of rent-seeking in high-minded talk about workplace safety.


  41. UnusualCandor (unregistered) on December 7th, 2005 @ 4:39 pm

    I didn’t gloss over it. I am just saying that if you don’t like the second hand smoke, don’t go into that establishment.


  42. Tom Bridge (unregistered) on December 7th, 2005 @ 4:43 pm

    No, you glossed over it. I have a right to enjoy myself in bars and restaurants. It’s not constitutionally protected, but it’s the sort of thing that society has recognized for countless generations. Forcing me out because I don’t like the idea of getting lung damage is unacceptable.

    It’s not that smoking offends my sensibilities (though it does), it’s that it causes physical harm.


  43. ed (unregistered) on December 7th, 2005 @ 6:35 pm

    I have a right to enjoy myself in bars and restaurants. It’s not constitutionally protected, but it’s the sort of thing that society has recognized for countless generations.

    Society may have recognized your right to enjoy yourself in bars and restaurants for generations, but so what? It has certainly not recognized your right to enjoy yourself in smoke-free bars and restaurants for generations. By your reasoning, I might as well argue that society has recognized the rights of people to enjoy themselves by smoking in bars and restaurants for generations. Which would be more accurate but, like your assertion, irrelevant.

    The idea that this is a public health measure to protect customers is pretty goofy (given the typical level of exposure, which pales in comparison to exposure to other harmful air pollutants–do I have a right to walk on the street without getting lung damage from bus and car fumes?), which is why the argument tends to be couched in terms of protecting workers, who are indeed, in some establishments, exposed to an awful lot of second-hand smoke. Clearly that’s a fig leaf.


  44. Don (unregistered) on December 7th, 2005 @ 9:39 pm

    Maybe we’re going to different bars but the quantity of smoke I inhale from cigarettes in bars is way higher than the bus fumes I get walking down the road. And never once have I come home from a walk reeking of bus exhaust. I don’t think the exposure question is goofy at all – second-hand smoke might be lesser in intensity to smoking itself but most smokers aren’t sucking it in for 40 hours a week the way service workers are.

    You may be correct that if this was 100% a worker safety issue it wouldn’t ever happen but that doesn’t make it less right.



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