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Maryland Town Snuffs Out Its Beleaguered Open-Air Smoking Ban

March 14, 2001|From the Washington Post

WASHINGTON — The village of Friendship Heights, Md., has repealed a smoking ban considered the toughest in the nation, concluding that continuing the legal fight to enforce the ban after two adverse court decisions could harm the national movement to take the war on smoking outdoors.

The Village Council, which last year banned outdoor smoking in public places such as parks and sidewalks, voted unanimously Monday night to repeal the ban.

The vote came after a Montgomery County circuit judge temporarily blocked the village this month from enforcing the ban. Judge Durke Thompson said that as a special taxing district the village had no authority to exercise police powers the law reserves for true municipalities.

The judge's narrow ruling did not address arguments by opponents that such bans are unconstitutional, and he praised Friendship Heights for attempting to "protect its citizens and others from a significant health risk." It was the second legal blow to the ban; another judge blocked the village in January from enforcing it.

Tobacco companies and their opponents have closely followed the wrangling in Friendship Heights, a village of about 5,000 people bordering Washington.

The interest stems from a shift in strategy on the part of smoking foes. After years of fighting to restrict smoking in workplaces, restaurants and bars, anti-smoking forces are increasingly looking at the outdoors as a battlefront. Friendship Heights is not the first jurisdiction to take steps to restrict outdoor smoking. Others have banned smoking in stadiums and parks or at beaches. But the village's ban was the most sweeping.

Of the plaintiffs who took the ban to court, some were associated with the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank. Their attorney, Timothy Maloney, was pleased with the decision to drop the fight.

"Wisdom is always welcome," he said.

Friendship Heights Mayor Alfred Muller said the village decided not to appeal the ruling because he and others did not want the case to set a bad precedent that would prevent true municipalities from following the village's lead.

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