Montgomery Co. on verge of expanding smoking ban

WASHINGTON — It’s already against the law to smoke inside restaurants and bars in Maryland, though in many places, it’s still OK to smoke while drinking and dining on outdoor patios. But a ban that’s already been passed by the cities of Rockville and Gaithersburg could soon cover all of Montgomery County, Maryland.

The county council’s Health and Human Services Committee passed a ban Monday by a 3-0 vote. However, it was amended to include two exceptions: golf courses and venues with balconies.

“There are very few restaurants that have rooftops and balconies,” said Council member Gabe Albornoz.

“Because rooftops and balconies are more or less destination spots within restaurants, you don’t have to pass through them in order to get to various elements of a restaurant. There are more options to restrict their use and give restaurant owners more flexibility and for those people who would just as well not want to pass through the smoke or the vaping they wouldn’t have to.”

Because most restaurants wouldn’t be able to use that exception, it could disproportionately affect the same entertainment zones the county has spent years trying to boost.

“I will choose not to go to these handful of places,” Council member Evan Glass later said, “but, I know a lot of other people do.”

“I certainly understand angst for other people as they may be around these kind of products,” said Council member Craig Rice. “But, I also want to make sure that we’re not infringing on businesses and their ability to cater to those folks who do choose to still partake of these particular products.”

Vaping would face the same prohibitions as cigarettes.

“This is the balance I tried to achieve” added Rice. “It’s about trying to get to five votes to move forward with a compromise piece of legislation.”

People eating food that came from restaurants along golf courses would also be able to continue to smoke outside as well.

The full council will take up the bill next.

The cities of Rockville and Gaithersburg already ban smoking in outdoor dining areas.

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