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 enclosed malls in the county. The County Council decision Monday makes Howard one of the first jurisdictions in the nation to ban all smoking in private malls.
The law provides for a ticket and civil penalty of $100 to $250, and a criminal 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 responsible for the county's current anti-smoking legislation, 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 pharmacist. "I'll be less likely to eat here . . . I hunger for a cigarette after I eat."
One shop directly affected is D.J.'s Smoke Shop, which sells 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."
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 can't avoid breathing contaminated air, but smokers can choose not to smoke.