ANNAPOLIS — Influential tobacco industry lobbyist Bruce Bereano includes Delegate Donald B. Elliott, R-Carroll, Howard, among those he refers to as the "health police" -- legislators and activists imposing their ideas of clean living on others.
Elliott told the House Environmental Matters Committee Wednesday that he prefers instead to consider himselfa "health crusader" and implored the panel to support his bill aimedat protecting the health of non-smokers by requiring supervisors of public places to designate smoking and non-smoking areas.
Testimony pitted physicians, scientists and non-profit health organizations against the powerful tobacco lobby and the Restaurant Association of Maryland, which said its clients have been exemplary in complying with a voluntary agreement calling for them to designate non-smoking areas.
The governor's legislative office, which has launched a drive to investigate Maryland's high cancer death rate, and the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene also support the bill.
Elliott told the panel that contentions that the bill infringes onsmokers' rights now are invalid.
"The last few years, there's been indisputable evidence that breathing involuntary tobacco smoke indoors has adverse health effects on the non-smoker," he said. "Don't wehave a responsibility to protect health?"
DHMH cited statistics saying that inhalation of environmental tobacco smoke could contributeto as many as 53,000 of the 434,000 deaths attributed to smoking in the nation annually.
The bill, which would not set specific standards or space requirements for the designated areas, would apply to restaurants with seating capacities of at least
50 people, retail stores with at least seven full-time employees, auditoriums, indoor arenasand enclosed shopping malls.
A restaurant association attorney said his client feels "unjustly maligned" because it has invested considerable time and money in encouraging eateries statewide to designate non-smoking areas. The program, forged between the legislature and the association in 1989, set a goal of getting 85 percent of restaurants to comply.
"We do it, then we feel like we're getting kicked in the teeth," said attorney Franklin Goldstein.
Robin Shaivitz, lobbyist for the Maryland Coalition for Smoking or Health, contended the voluntary program wasn't working as well as claimed. A random survey of restaurants showed far below 85 percent compliance, she said.
Bereano, representing the Tobacco Institute, blasted the coalition for giving the restaurant association a "bum rap" and for offering little support for the voluntary program.
"They just want to ban smoking in restaurants," he said.
He also said the bill constitutes a "massive governmental intrusion" because it could apply to private businesses, such as lawyers' offices.
Elliott amended the bill to appease the Maryland Chamber of Commerce, which expressed concern about the legislation's effects on private offices.
Still, the bill applies to the workplace which is "generally accessible and open to thepublic as part of its normal business operations," but excludes employee cafeterias.
Another tobacco industry spokesman said government shouldn't interfere in personal and business decisions.
"Let themarketplace take care of these type of things," said William Pitcher. "Freedom of choice, free enterprise, it's what the country was founded upon."
HD:.Bills call for cemetery protection, non smoking areas