Howard County has taken its anti-smoking crusade to the heart of America -- the mall.
Starting in June, it will be a crime to smoke anywhere inside any of the enclosed malls in the county. The County Council decision Monday makes Howard one of the first jurisdictions in the nation to completely ban smoking in private malls.
There are both civil and criminal penalties for scoff-law smokers. The civil penalty involves a ticket of $100 to $250, and the criminal penalty, a fine of $100 plus court costs on conviction. No jail time is involved.
"I believe business will increase in a smoke-free mall," said C. Vernon Gray, a 3rd District Democrat, who sponsored the ban. "We need not pine for tobacco companies; they will survive."
Mr. Gray is also responsible for the county's current anti-smoking legislation, which was one of the first laws in the state to require restaurants and office buildings to set aside separate smoking areas.
Democrats Paul R. Farragut and Shane Pendergrass vehemently opposed the mall bill, saying it attempts to "micro-manage people's lives."
Some customers and store owners at The Mall in Columbia agree.
"If you feel unwelcome somewhere, there is a tendency to stay away from it," said David Evans, a 30-year-old Columbia pharmacist. "I'll be less likely to eat here, to tell you the truth, because I hunger for a cigarette after I eat."
One shop that will be directly affected is D.J.'s Smoke Shop, which offers a selection of high-grade cigars and sells 40 blends of tobacco and 75 brands of cigarettes. D.J.'s owner sees her sales going up in smoke.
"It certainly will hurt my business," said Lana Flax. "I feel it's very unfortunate that people who smoke can't have the freedom to smoke in a designated area. There were so few in the first place."
Ms. Flax started a petition drive to oppose the bill and was going to present it to the County Council before it voted. "I'm very upset," she said. "Extremely upset."
Non-smoker Karen Fitch, owner of a porcelain craft cart, is glad about the ban. "I just don't like the smell of smoke and it just makes my eyes itch and burn," she said. "It'd be different if smoke didn't have harmful effects on you."
That was the argument Mr. Gray made Monday night, when he recited a litany of health hazards associated with secondary smoke. He said non-smokers do not have a choice about whether to breathe smoke-contaminated air, but smokers can choose not to smoke.
Republicans Darrel Drown and Charles C. Feaga voted with Dr. Gray to impose the ban. An amendment to a County Council bill that would have granted an exception to the Rouse Co. and allowed smoking in areas on the second floor of the Columbia Mall failed by a 3-2 margin.
"Certainly we will abide by the rules and regulations as we always have and always will," said Cathy Lickteig, vice president for corporate public affairs at the Rouse Company. "I had hoped the compromise would pass and that we would be able to work our way into a total ban gradually."
The Columbia Mall is not the first Rouse mall to be closed to smokers, she said, but it may be the first closed to smokers by ordinance. She said the company's Ridgedale Mall in a Minneapolis suburb had gone smokeless a couple of months ago, but that move was led by merchants.
Ms. Lickteig said that she believes Howard County is the first community in which Rouse does business to enact a mall smoking ban. "I suspect it will not be the last," she said. "Whether by legislative body or merchants, we will be dealing with this issue."
Ms. Lickteig said she was sure shoppers will abide by the rules. "Our security people have not had any serious complaints or problems," she said.
Some customers may take their puffs -- and their business -- elsewhere. "There are other malls close to my house and I'll probably go there," said 45-year-old homemaker Karen Creighton, who lives in Sykesville. "We have every right to be comfortable, too."
Store managers didn't seem worried. "I shouldn't be held accountable for someone else's bad habit," said Darren Hill, manager of the Pro-Image sports store. "If you want to smoke that bad, it won't hurt you to walk an extra two to three feet outside," Mr. Hill said.
"Most of our customers are pretty health conscious anyway," said Rhonda Cammarata, manager of The Limited. "Our clientele will not be affected."
The bill will take effect in 60 days. Although he has no plans to veto the bill, County Executive Charles I. Ecker said he wants to talk with mall officials about its implementation and with police chief James N. Robey about enforcement. Chief Robey had testified earlier that a total ban would be easier to enforce than a partial ban.
Other county malls affected by the ban are Chatham, Eastgate. Oakland Mills and Savage Mill.
There are no smoking bans in the common area in Rouse's Harborplace and Gallery shopping centers in Baltimore, Ms. Lickteig said.
Nearby malls have different policies. Towson Town Center doesn't allow smoking in the common area but cordons off an area for smokers at the food court. Marley Station in Glen Burnie permits smoking in different areas of the mall, but allows restaurants to set up their own rules. Owings Mills Mall also allows smoking in the mall but its eating place is divided into smoking and non-smoking areas.
Vicki Strittmater, director of community and public affairs for the Maryland branch of the American Cancer Society, praised the legislation, saying it may be "the wave of the future" in that anti-smoking legislation would be enacted on a local rather than a state level.