Bill introduced to pre-empt localities on anti-smoking regulations

February 04, 1992|By John W. Frece | John W. Frece,Annapolis Bureau of The Sun

ANNAPOLIS -- The state of Maryland would pre-empt counties and municipalities from enacting any local controls on when and where people may smoke under legislation introduced last night by the president of the Senate.

The bill, pushed by a cadre of tobacco industry lobbyists, some of whom are former legislators, would not alter prohibitions or limitations on smoking already on the books around the state as of Jan. 1, 1992, but would concentrate at the state level all future discussion of anti-smoking legislation.

In an effort to gain support from smoking opponents or others who believe smoking is a health hazard, the bill would make it a crime for anyone under 18 to even possess tobacco products.

Minors caught with cigarettes could face a $100 fine the first time, a $200 fine the second, and a $500 fine for any subsequent infractions if the legislation became law.

Smoking opponents have long argued that keeping cigarettes or other tobacco products away from minors is an important step in preventing people from forming a tobacco addiction.

"It's the first attempt, as far as I'm aware of, of the tobacco industry saying, 'We're willing to give,' " said Catherine I. Riley, a former state senator and committee chairman from Harford County who helpeddraft the bill on behalf of Philip Morris, the cigarette manufacturer.

But Robin F. Shaivitz, who for several years has pushed for stronger curbs on smoking as lobbyist for the American Cancer Association and the American Heart Association, said of the bill: "This is not a bone thrown in our direction by any stretch of the imagination." Police, she said, are far too busy dealing with real crime to worry about arresting cigarette smokers.

"This bill is part of a national strategy to pre-empt local jurisdictions from passing strict anti-smoking regulations," she added.

Gerard E. Evans, lobbyist for the state medical society, referred to the bill as "tobacco lobby garbage" and said it was a thinly veiled attempt by the tobacco industry to consolidate its lobbying efforts in Annapolis.

"If they could do this in every state of the country, they could force their disease-laden lobby on 50 states rather than on thousands of municipalities and county council chambers."

Bruce Adams, a Montgomery County councilman, called the bill "an outrage," saying it was aimed at the jurisdictions that have passed the toughest anti-smoking legislation in the state.

He said even the bill's title, the Tobacco Control Act, was misleading because the actual effect would be to limit controls on smoking.

But Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George's, said he introduced the bill because it would "promote uniformity throughout the state."

Sponsors said the measure attempts to assure that the government does not unnecessarily intrude on the private decisions made by individuals.

Before joining the ranks of lobbyists this year, Ms. Riley had been chairman of the Finance Committee under Senator Miller. She inherited the Philip Morris job from another former state senator, Frank J. Komenda of Prince George's County, who worked for the tobacco company before moving jumping late last year to a high paying lobbying job with the University of Maryland.

Also allied in favor of the bill are Bruce C. Bereano, the highest paid lobbyist in Maryland, representing the Tobacco Institute; Annapolis lobbyist George N. Manis, representing the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.; and Dennis C. McCoy, a former delegate from Baltimore now representing the Smokeless Tobacco Council.

Backers also had hoped to persuade Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., D-Kent, to sponsor identical legislation in the House, but Mr. Mitchell said last night that he so far has not agreed to do so.

Under the bill, every business that employees 50 or more workers would be required to adopt a written policy about smoking in the workplace. Such a policy could permit, limit or prohibit smoking.

But the bill also would say an employer could not fire, refuse to hire, "or otherwise disadvantage any individual with respect to compensation, terms, conditions or privileges of employment because the individual is a smoker or non-smoker."

Mr. Evans, representing the state's physicians, said he thought those provisions were inconsistent: that one section would require a smoking policy for the workplace, while the other would take away so many options that the policy would be meaningless.

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