Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Rockville Town Square business owners push back against outdoor smoking ban

While several residents spoke in favor of a proposed ban on smoking in all outdoor dining areas in Rockville last night, business owners in Rockville Town Square told the Mayor and Council the ban would hurt their restaurants. "Are you trying to slow-poison business?" Mellow Mushroom owner Danny Trahan asked them.

"I'm running a business, how am I supposed to sell?" Trahan asked. "Why are you coming to us, and singling us out?" He noted that the City has yet to resolve the parking problems that business owners already blame for reduced profits, and the barrage of new taxes in the county. "Did I make a mistake in coming to Montgomery County?" Trahan asked pointedly. "I feel like I did."

Sonali Seth, who said she owns an Indian restaurant in town center, said she would be in "full support" of the ban if it applied across all of Montgomery County and the region. As it is, she predicted, Rockville businesses will suffer, as smokers go to other nearby establishments where outdoor smoking remains legal. "All the businesses will be hurt," she said. "It's going to hurt us, and we will close down."

The chef-owner of Spice Xing, one of the few businesses to have long-term success on Gibbs Street, said he recently quit smoking himself, and therefore saw the value of the effort. But he suggested the Mayor and Council could make a stronger health impact by spending money on helping residents to stop smoking altogether. 

Adam Zimmerman, a leading advocate for the ban, said that if smoking laws remain unchanged, 92000 Maryland children will die prematurely from smoking. Business owner and resident Joe Applebaum said that as a businessman in the health field, he thought the ban would be "phenomenal." He said allowing the 8% of people who smoke to impose health risks on the other 92% is "ridiculous."

Two other residents cited recent unpleasant experiences dining at Rockville Town Square as reasons they support the ban. Julie Mankowski of King Farm said she had just dined near the windows at Bar Louie before last night's meeting. Four people smoking outside sent smoke drifting through the windows into the restaurant where she was sitting, she said.

Likewise, a West End resident recalled her trip to Finnegan's Wake on St. Patrick's Day. "There was so much smoking" outdoors, she said, that she wound up leaving earlier than she had planned. "I just don't want to be here anymore. I just could not get away from smoke," she said.

Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton said the record for public comment on the proposed ban will remain open until April 7, 2017. Last night's hearing failed to provide the entertainment value of the hearing held years ago to decide on the original indoor smoking ban. That evening included testimony from Hooters girls, and the legendary "Nobody forces me to go to the Apollo" speech.


  1. Dyer, why do you even bother having a separate blog for Rockville? This is your only Rockville-specific article in nearly a week.

    1. This is the leading Rockville news site.
      Thank goodness we have a Rockville news source after the Gazette shuttered!

    2. 5:28: Are you nuts, or just plain dumb. Rockville High School is in...duh!...Rockville, you moron. God, what an idiot.

    3. "Are you nuts, or just plain dumb. Duh! You moron. God, what an idiot."

      Edward R. Murrow would be so proud of you, Dyer. LOL

    4. When Dyer was asked to describe himself in 10 words or less:

      "nuts, just plain dumb, moron,...what an idiot"

  2. I'm a non-smoker and am very much against smoking in all forms but I agree that singling out Town Square for a ban is unfair. Even without, the businesses there are struggling with the parking situation (and lack of industry/resident base since we don't encourage real business to move into the area). We can all see there is so much turnover in the restaurant scene. It would seem as if the City is TRYING to make town square a failure. To Danny Trahan - we appreciate you opening your business here but yes you probably did make a mistake opening it in Montgomery County.

    Also, that 92000 figure is misleading. I highly doubt any children are dying of outdoor second hand smoke. Maybe over our lifetimes, it is a contributing factor, possibly reducing our life span by a few days or weeks.

    Why not designate specific smoking zones instead for town square? Let's find a happy medium!

  3. Hi, this is Adam Zimmerman. Mr. Dyer, thanks for covering this important issue. I'd like to respond to a couple comments:

    The 92,000 figure referenced here that I cited during my public hearing remarks is the number of children alive today in Maryland who will ultimately die prematurely from smoking. There is nothing misleading about it--it comes from the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids website (https://www.tobaccofreekids.org/facts_issues/toll_us/maryland). The source is a 2014 Surgeon General's report (https://www.surgeongeneral.gov/library/reports/50-years-of-progress/full-report.pdf).

    The smoke-free outdoor dining ordinance would not apply only to Town Square; it would cover all outdoor eating areas in the city of Rockville. Hundreds of municipalities across the country have passed similar laws, including La Plata in MD.

    With respect to the comments form the restaurant owners: there is overwhelming evidence that smoke-free laws covering restaurants and bars do not hurt their business; in fact, they often produce a positive effect (https://www.tobaccofreekids.org/research/factsheets/pdf/0144.pdf)

    For more on this matter, please see my recent op-ed in The Washington Post (http://wapo.st/2nNbOcU).

    Thanks again for covering this issue.

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