Metro Weekly

Smoke Saga

DC City Council moves forward with smoking ban for restaurants and nightlife venues

Washington moved another step closer to banning smoking in all workplaces — including bars and nightclubs — following a 12-1 vote Dec. 6 in favor of the ”Department of Health Functions Clarification Amendment Act of 2005.” The name of the legislation is as cumbersome as its progress.

While passing this initial vote, a second is required. In the interim, the act may be changed in ways that lessen its impact on creating smoke-free venues, or in ways that make it severe enough to prompt a veto from Mayor Anthony Williams, who has said he’s not pleased with the legislation as written.

”I strongly support a smoking ban for most public places,” said Williams in a prepared statement. ”But I’ve always felt that we should not impose a blanket ban on all of our restaurants…. I strongly encourage the Council to revisit this legislation before its next reading.”

However the legislation moves, it may be of greater concern to the city’s gay community, who are more likely than the general population to smoke, statistics indicate. And bars have historically played a key role in the gay community.

”Gay and lesbian venues and workers are particularly concerned about the effect this bill will have on the ability of community’s businesses to survive, and for our jobs,” insists Mark Lee, a prominent, local proponent of the hospitality industry, who opposes a blanket smoking ban in nightlife venues.

David Mariner, on the other hand, is pleased with the Council’s step. Mariner has served as a paid consultant to the National Coalition on LGBT Health in regard to tobacco issues. Though a resident of Silver Spring, where smoking in all venues is already banned, Mariner says he’s been watching the D.C. legislation closely.

”I would say [the Dec. 6 vote] is a big step forward,” says Mariner, already with an eye to the second vote, likely to happen next month. ”Something is going to happen in January, and we need to make sure it’s the right thing.”

Mariner says he worries that prior to a second vote, the legislation may be changed to include exceptions for venues employing ventilators designed to clean the air. He says there is no evidence such machines could do the job sufficiently.

Regardless of any hurdles to come, or turns this legislation may take, Mariner is confident that the Dec. 6 vote is progress toward making D.C. workplaces, like gay bars, smoke-free. ”I think we’re in the final mile of the marathon.”

Lee, who has been in this fight as long as anyone, says that any final outcome remains to be seen. Says Lee: ”We will continue to oppose [the proposed ban]. It ain’t over till it’s over.”

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