Thursday is the Great American Smokeout, where smokers are urged to give up their habit for one day in hopes that might lead them to quit permanently. For those who do keep smoking in Montgomery County, they could soon find fewer places to do so.
The county has been at the forefront of smoking bans nationwide, with its first ban occurring all the way back in 1977 when smoking was outlawed in elevators and large retail stores. That ban has been extended numerous times, and councilwoman Nancy Floreen now wants to extend it some more.
"There is no risk-free level of exposure to second-hand smoke," says Floreen.
She unveiled a bill this morning that would ban smoking on all county-owned and leased property.
"All the grounds of county office buildings," says Floreen. "It would extend to the area around the jail, the Montgomery County correctional facility. Veterans Plaza in downtown Silver Spring. County garages and parking lots. Grounds of county-owned golf courses. County-owned recreational facilities."
The bill already has six co-sponsors, giving it more than enough support to pass it should it come to a vote, which wouldn't be until early next year. One of those co-sponsors is councilman George Leventhal, who says the goal is to get people to quit smoking, not to punish them. He believes that effort is working, pointing to the 2003 move to ban smoking in county restaurants and bars.
"In 2003, about 11 percent of adults in Montgomery County were smokers," says Leventhal. "About 8 percent of adults in Montgomery County are smokers today. We're headed in the right direction. We want to get that number to zero."
Floreen did say she and her colleagues will look further at how much the ban would put the county-owned golf courses at a disadvantage, possibly leading golfers who want to smoke to take their business to the many other courses throughout the area.
Public roads and bus shelters are not part of the expanded smoking ban. Supporters say that's not because it's OK to smoke there, but because it would be impossible for the county to enforce a ban at those places.
A public hearing on the bill is tentatively scheduled for Jan. 15.