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Will Clean Air Empty Tables?

County ban on smoking in restaurants withstands its first challenge and goes into effect.

On Oct. 8, the last day that restaurant patrons could legally smoke in Montgomery County, the bar at Hunter’s Inn in Potomac was full of the usuals.

But co-owner Fred Berman was afraid that he wouldn’t be seeing too much of the customers he was greeting like old friends.

The first people Berman thought of were a group of women, many of whom are smokers, who regularly visit his business. “The next time they get together, they won’t be here,” Berman predicted.

Circuit Court Judge Patrick Woodward turned down a request for a preliminary injunction on Oct. 8. If he had granted the injunction, it would have delayed implementation of the ban until the courts could decide its legality.

Berman, and most restaurateurs in the county are opposed to the ban which went into effect Oct. 9. No smoking will be allowed in restaurants and bars. Outdoor seating and private clubs are exempted from the ban.

The primary reason cited by those in the industry is economic. “I expect to lose 10 percent for at least the next six months,” Berman said.

People sitting around the bar had mixed reactions to the ban. Smokers were opposed to it. “It will change our habits,” said Ann Tate of Darnestown in between drags.

“When I feel like smoking, I’ll go somewhere else,” said Jerry Lilienfield of Potomac.

Some non-smokers came to the defense of smokers. “I don’t smoke and I recognize it’s not good for you,” said Roger Heymann of Bethesda. “But to tell people that like to smoke they can’t smoke isn’t fair.”

Heymann said there are more dangerous social issues to be addressed. “If you want to outlaw something, outlaw cell phones when driving,” he said.

Supporters of the ban were excited to learn that they would no longer be exposed to secondhand smoke.

“I think that nobody should be allowed to smoke in this world,” said Suzy Miller of Potomac. “It does nothing good, it does everything bad. It ate my husband’s throat out.”

Miller was sitting just feet from a smoker, but said that if she could smell the smoke, she would have moved.

Miller is an example of the kind of person that Montgomery County will be trying to attract. The council has directed the County’s Economic Advisory Board to assist restaurants in marketing themselves, now that changes have been made in their operation.

They reason that while smokers might cross the line into jurisdictions which allow smoking, non smokers might come the other way to patronize the newly smoke-free establishments.

Berman does not think that plan will work. “People don’t call and say, ‘Is there smoking there?’” Berman said.

Miller said that if she happens to be out to the county, she’ll come back so she can be assured that she will be in a smoke free environment. “I have asthma so I don’t have a choice,” she said. “Yes, I will go the extra mile.”