ANNAPOLIS – Montgomery County Circuit Judge Patrick L. Woodward Wednesday rejected a request by three local restaurants to temporarily halt a county ban on smoking in pubs and eateries.
“This was an important victory for public health,” said Councilman Phil Andrews, D-Gaithersburg, lead sponsor of the law.
The law, which took effect at midnight, prohibited smoking in all restaurants and bars in Montgomery County.
The restaurants who brought the issue to court – two Clyde’s establishments and the Anchor Inn – argued before Woodward that the ban will hurt public restaurants because it exempts private clubs, fraternal organizations and the city of Gaithersburg. They’d asked Woodward to temporarily halt the law until the issues could be further explored at trial.
“Gaithersburg is going to be an oasis for smokers in Montgomery County,” said Robert Keene, who represented the restaurants. “This is going to have a devastating impact on a number of restaurants and bars that allow smoking. Depending upon how long this plays out, many could go out of business.”
Woodward determined the restaurants failed to meet one of the standards for granting a preliminary injunction: that of proving there was a real probability of winning on the merits of the case in court.
All the parties expect the case will proceed as planned despite the ruling.
The Montgomery County Council enacted the law in July after a similar ban passed as a health regulation was thrown out by the Maryland Court of Appeals in May.
In the earlier case, a judge ruled that the county should not have passed the prohibition as a health regulation. In Wednesday’s case, Woodward said the County Council can act with broader authority. He also ruled that Maryland law prohibits the county from imposing the ban on private clubs.
“We are very pleased with the judge’s decision,” said Montgomery County Executive Douglas Duncan. “Our law will protect both restaurant workers and patrons from the health effects of secondhand smoke.”
More than 1,000 Marylanders die each year from secondhand smoke according to a press release from Smoke Free Maryland, an anti-smoking grassroots organization. The American Cancer Society estimates 3,200 Marylanders will be diagnosed with lung cancer in 2003.
“Secondhand smoke is a health issue first and foremost,” said Kari Appler, Smoke Free Maryland project director. “This is a great model for statewide smoke-free legislation.” In a March 2003 poll, 67 percent of residents of the Washington suburbs, including Montgomery County, supported smoke-free public places
Similar smoking bans are in place in California, Delaware, Connecticut and Florida and in New York City, Boston and Austin, Texas. The District of Columbia is considering a similar law.
Anti-smoking activists will celebrate the decision tonight at 6:30 at Clyde’s of Chevy Chase. Capital News Service reporter Debra George Siedt contributed to this report.