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WASHINGTON -- Results of a poll conducted commissioned by a coalition of health advocates, unions, churches and community groups revealed 60 percent of Washington, D. C. residents favor a workplace smoking ban, according to The Washington Post.
The results were released on the eve of a hearing at which dozens of witnesses have signed up to testify. The debate pits those concerned about the dangers of secondhand smoke against business owners and economic development officials who worry that smoking restrictions will harm their goal of a vibrant downtown.
The telephone poll, conducted Nov. 16 to Nov. 18, involved 500 randomly selected registered voters, said Mark S. Mellman, who conducted the study for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, according to the Post.
Yesterday, council member Carol Schwartz (R-At Large) introduced a less-restrictive bill that would give restaurants, bars and nightclubs a 15-percent sales-tax credit if they voluntarily agree to be smoke-free. Six other council members co-sponsored the bill, giving it the support of a majority of the 13-member body, the newspaper reported.
In a statement, Schwartz said her proposal creates an economic incentive for restaurants to ban smoking without resorting to legal coercion. "It gives businesses in this city freedom of choice with an incentive to be smoke-free, while we -- all of us -- maintain our freedom of choice of which establishments we patronize," she said.
A 1979 city law, amended in 1986, prohibits smoking in elevators, buses and subways, public schools and the public areas of retail stores and health-care facilities. Private employers must keep a written policy designating where smoking is permitted.
Restaurants that were built after 1988 and have more than 50 seats must set aside at least half as nonsmoking; those built before that must designate at least 25 percent of seating as nonsmoking. Nightclubs are exempt.
In the area, Montgomery County enacted a workplace smoking ban in 1999, but it was overturned in court. A new version of the ban was passed in July and took effect in October.
Other jurisdictions with similar bans include the states of California, Connecticut, Delaware and New York and the cities of Boston, El Paso, Texas, and Lexington, Ky. A ban in Maine is to take effect next month, while Lexington's has been challenged in court. Albuquerque, Dallas and Honolulu have bans that exempt bars, the Post reported.