Montgomery Co. council member looks to ban smoking in restaurants’ outdoor areas

BETHESDA, Md. — Smoking inside restaurants has been banned for some time, but restaurants in Montgomery County, Maryland, that allow diners to take puffs while eating in outside-seating areas may soon be forced to stop the practice.

Montgomery County Council member Sidney Katz said he intends to introduce a bill at Tuesday’s council meeting that would ban smoking at establishments that serve food in outside areas.

The ban would include e-cigarettes and “vaping” in these outdoor-seating areas, as well.

“If someone sitting near you is smoking and the wind shifts, then that smoke is directly on you,” Katz said.

The councilman said he wrote the bill after a resident raised concerns to him about the health implications of nonsmokers breathing in the smoke from another diner.

Right now, in addition to inside restaurants, smoking is also banned in auditoriums, concert and lecture halls, as well as on county-owned or -leased property, which includes bus stops.

Ronnie Heckman, the owner of Caddies Bar & Grill on Cordell Avenue in Bethesda, said of the proposed bill, “It will impact business negatively.” (WTOP/Mike Murillo)

Katz said with the bill, enforcement would happen after a complaint comes into the county, but right now, it’s unclear which agency would address the complaint.

The proposed bill isn’t sitting well with restaurants that offer customers an area outside where they can smoke and eat. “It will impact business negatively,” said Ronnie Heckman, the owner of Caddies Bar & Grill on Cordell Avenue in Bethesda.

Heckman said during busy times, he seats close to 150 people who want to smoke while eating, drinking and taking in a game.

But, if the ban was to become law, Heckman said that would not only affect his restaurant negatively, but also the county, since it sells alcohol to bars like the one he owns: “If I have less customers, I buy less alcohol. I buy less alcohol, the county makes less money,” Heckman said.

He added that he would be open to making a compromise, such as allowing lunch outside during the weekdays be smoke-free. But eliminating smoking in outdoor spaces at restaurants after 4 p.m. and on weekends, Heckman said, would cause customers at his and other businesses to go elsewhere.

Katz also said he wants to hear from those who support the bill, and those who don’t and may feel it should be amended. “This deserves a good discussion,” he said.

As for Montgomery County residents, many have mixed feelings about the legislation.

“It’s a solution in search of a problem. Everyone’s happy the way it is. Leave it alone,” said Kevin Kistler, of Potomac.

Julio Wright, of Bethesda, said it’s a bill he can get behind. “It makes things cleaner for the family just to have fun outside,” he said.

After being introduced at Tuesday’s meeting, public comment will be heard on the legislation during a county council meeting on Oct. 23 at 1:30 p.m. at 100 Maryland Avenue in Rockville.

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