Tobacco measure called smoke screen Bill masquerades as an anti-smoking measure, some say.

February 04, 1992|By John W. Frece

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 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 &r 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 age 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.

"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 helped draft 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.

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

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.

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