Rockville can lead on smoke-free outdoor dining
On Monday, the Rockville City Council will hold a public hearing on an ordinance to ensure smoke-free air at all outdoor dining areas citywide. This development builds on a remarkable series of steps that state and local policymakers in our area have taken over the past 15 years to reduce residents’ exposure to the dangers of secondhand smoke:
· 2003: A Montgomery County ordinance ensures smoke-free air in indoor areas, including public office buildings, schools, health-care facilities and restaurants.
· 2007: Maryland’s Clean Indoor Air Act ensures smoke-free air in virtually all indoor workplaces statewide, including restaurants, to “preserve and improve the health, comfort, and environment of the people of Maryland by limiting exposure to environmental tobacco smoke.”
· 2011: A Montgomery County Board of Health regulation ensures smoke-free air in common indoor areas of multi-unit residential dwellings and within 25 feet of outdoor private playground areas at such dwellings.
· 2015: A Rockville City Council vote ensures smoke-free air at outdoor areas of more than 80 city-owned office buildings, parks, recreation centers and other facilities.
Rockville’s smoke-free outdoor dining ordinance, drafted by City Council member Julie Palakovich Carr, would build on these smoke-free policies, which benefit our residents, families and businesses every day, making Rockville a healthier, safer and better place to live.
Should Rockville adopt this ordinance, it would join four states and 250 municipalities that have enacted laws requiring 100 percent smoke-free outdoor dining and bar patio areas.
But Rockville would not just be following; it also would be leading. It would become only the second municipality in Maryland — and the first in the D.C. area — to take this step.
There is overwhelming scientific consensus that there is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke. But research shows that it is still quite prevalent, even in places where smoke-free indoor laws have been enacted. A study published last year in the American Journal of Health Promotion measured secondhand smoke exposure among Minnesota residents seven years after the state enacted a smoke-free air law. Researchers found that 35 percent of nonsmokers reported still being exposed to secondhand smoke over the preceding seven days. An outdoor restaurant seating area or bar patio was the thirdmost-frequently reported area of such exposure.
The health benefits to such a measure, then, are clear. So, too, are the economic benefits. Per the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, “numerous careful scientific and economic analyses show that smokefree laws do not hurt restaurant and bar patronage, employment, sales, or profits.” The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Community Preventive Services Task Force has similarly concluded that “smoke-free policies did not have an adverse economic impact on the business activity of restaurants, bars, or establishments catering to tourists; some studies found a small positive effect of these policies.”
Ensuring smoke-free outdoor dining areas makes sense. That’s why food retail establishments in our city, including Dawson’s Market and World of Beer, already do it. That’s why leading national health organizations, including the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, the March of Dimes, Maryland Group Against Smoker’s Pollution and Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights, have endorsed the effort. And that’s why the City Council should pass it and other municipalities in the metropolitan area should follow suit.
When it comes to smoke-free outdoor dining areas, science, economics and health are all firmly on our side. Everybody wins. I look forward to the day in the very near future when this policy becomes a part of what makes Rockville a great place for families to thrive.