County goes back to the drawing board

Published February 1, 2002

Montgomery County’s aborted decision to criminalize at-home smoking was not the first, nor will it likely be the last, of its notorious anti-smoking laws.

On December 12, 2000, the County Council approved the nation’s strictest tobacco ban, prohibiting smoking on all public property, including open-air streets and sidewalks, in the village of Friendship Heights.

Friendship Heights Mayor Alfred Muller justified the ban as good for smokers and nonsmokers alike. “No one should be told, ‘I was here first. You don’t like the smoke, go somewhere else,'” said Muller.

Moreover, smokers should be appreciative, asserted Muller, because “This is a way to discourage them from smoking.”

“I don’t think we’re justified in prohibiting someone from smoking so broadly all times of the day,” countered Councilman Philip Andrews. “When laws go too far, they lose the respect of the public.”

A judge threw out the December 2000 anti-smoking law soon after it was enacted. However, supporters of the invalidated legislation have continued to search for ways to enact similar legislation in a manner that will survive a court challenge.

Now that County Executive Douglas Duncan has withdrawn his support for the indoor smoking legislation, council members are vowing to try again to enact a smoking ban that will pass political and legal muster.