Smokers could soon face tougher restrictions in Gaithersburg when choosing to light a cigarette or puff a cigar in outdoor areas of city-owned property.
Michele Potter, director of Gaithersburg’s parks and recreation department, presented possible policy options at a City Council meeting Monday night that would put limitations on outdoor spaces where people can smoke when they are on city land. The ban would cover all tobacco products including chewing tobacco, and would potentially exempt city-owned residences like Wells-Robertson House.
“The purpose in drafting such a policy honors the right for all employees and visitors to breathe cleaner air and to protect against the adverse effects of second-hand tobacco smoke or environmental tobacco smoke,” Potter said.
Current city law only prohibits smoking indoors at city-owned facilities.
If the city chooses to pursue the path to legislation, it will have to decide on either a total or partial smoking ban. A total ban would eliminate the right to smoke on all property owned or leased by the city, excluding rights-of-way. A partial ban would prohibit smoking within 50 feet of any entrance or exit including doors, windows, air ducts or other openings, and at all recreational amenities and facilities, like parks, swimming pools, common areas and city-sponsored functions and festivals.
Potter said that while a total ban is clear and sends a positive health message, it excludes the preferences of smokers. Conversely, a partial ban manages to include smokers and protect children, but it is harder for people to know where the restricted areas are and it is more difficult for the city to enforce.
The council agreed to hold a public hearing on the topic in the near future to hear the opinions of residents on both sides of the issue and have time to do further research.
“I want to see documentation that we really have an actual problem in the city of Gaithersburg,” Councilman Jud Ashman said.
Montgomery County laws prohibits smoking on property owned or leased by the county, including bus stops and county parks, and within 25 feet of a playground area on private property.
Other cities and towns have already enacted legislation to limit smoking in outdoor areas. Takoma Park adopted the same policy as the county. Rockville banned any smoking within 40 feet of playground sites at all city parks and facilities and the Montgomery Village Foundation halted smoking at seven different swimming pools.
Challenges of enacting such legislation include figuring out who will respond to complaints and how repeat offenders will be handled, according to Potter. At the county level, enforcement is 100 percent based on voluntary compliance, meaning it relies on smokers to refrain from smoking in areas they know are restricted or on nonsmokers to inform the smoker of the rule and request that they stop or move away.
Because the success of the ban highly depends on community enforcement, sufficient signage is important to educate the public, Potter said.
The council said it was hesitant to move forward with legislation that would prohibit smoking.
One concern for Councilwoman Cathy Drzyzgula was the idea of passing legislation the city could not enforce.
“I have a general principal,” she said. “I don’t think we should pass laws we don’t intend to enforce and ask other people to enforce them.”
Ashman and Councilman Henry Marraffa both agreed that even though they personally dislike smoking, a total ban on smoking would infringe on an individual’s freedoms. They recommended that any future legislation would only restrict certain areas, like playgrounds.
“I think we should ban it on playgrounds and where we have kids playing,” Marraffa said. “I think we need to do this with the idea of our own partial ban, something that makes sense for the city, that doesn’t tread on people’s personal freedoms and rights.”