Sick baby sparks mom's effort to ban smoking at mall CARROLL COUNTY HEALTH

December 08, 1992|By Donna E. Boller | Donna E. Boller,Staff Writer

Debbie Frazier never liked breathing secondhand tobacco smoke, but she didn't really get her one-woman effort to ban smoking at Westminster's Cranberry Mall into gear until her baby got sick.

Mrs. Frazier started a letter-writing campaign this fall that has produced return letters of support for her position, but a promise of legislative action only from Del. Donald B. Elliott, R-Carroll-Howard, who has been pushing bills to restrict smoking for three years.

The mall management plans to restrict smoking to designated areas early in 1993, a measure that manager Frank D. Meyer says illustrates a desire to be proactive on the issue.

The designated-area restriction, however, may not resolve concerns about ambient tobacco smoke. Mrs. Frazier, 34, said she believes the real problem is that smoke hangs in the air because mall ventilation is inadequate.

A county official said the air-handling system meets building codes, but acknowledges that it is standard policy in Carroll not to check either the drawings or installation of air-handling units.

When infant Sarah Frazier developed colic late last summer, Mrs. Frazier's pediatrician advised her to keep the baby away from cigarette smoke, which aggravated the condition. Mrs. Frazier had taken Sarah to the mall when she was 2 weeks old. She recalled that the baby had been more fussy than usual that day. So she gave up shopping with Sarah at Cranberry Mall.

"It's not just because of Sarah. This is a health threat," Mrs. Frazier says. At 4 months of age, the baby has generally outgrown colic, and Mrs. Frazier recently took her to the mall for the first time since Sarah was 2 weeks old.

"I do go there," she said, "but not the way I would if it were a non-smoking mall."

Mr. Meyer said shopping centers generally don't initiate smoking restrictions in the absence of local laws.

"Typically, in the shopping center industry, we ban smoking where it is banned in other public buildings," he said.

The Cranberry Mall manager said he believes "it is only a matter of time before smoking is banned in public places in Carroll County."

If so, it seems likely that the action will come through the General Assembly rather than through the Westminster City Council. The action cannot come through the county government because the county commissioners lack the regulatory power.

Deputy County Attorney George A. Lahey refused to say whether Carroll does not have the authority because it is not a charter county. However, counties such as Howard and Montgomery, which have charter governments, have been able to pass smoking restrictions.

Westminster, which has charter government, may have the legal power to restrict smoking in malls and other privately owned establishments open to the public. Cranberry Mall is within the city limits.

City Attorney John B. Walsh Jr. said he had not researched the issue, "but I wouldn't be surprised if Westminster has the authority."

Mrs. Frazier, who lives in Westminster, said Mayor W. Benjamin Brown told her he would write the mall management supporting her position. She was unable to recall whether the mayor offered any legislative initiative. But if so, he did not pass it on to the City Council.

Council President William F. Haifley said he has received no requests for an ordinance from the mayor. Mr. Haifley said he vTC would favor state rather than local legislation because he thinks smoking restrictions should apply to all jurisdictions.

Mayor Brown did not return telephone calls Wednesday, Thursday or Friday.

In the 1992 General Assembly session, Mr. Elliott turned over his smoking restriction effort to the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. He said he thought the administration would be able to apply more lobbying pressure to get the bill passed than he could as an individual delegate.

"They didn't succeed last year, but I didn't feel they put a full-court press on," Mr. Elliott said. He expects the bill, which would require restaurants, malls and similar establishments to restrict smoking to designated areas, to be reintroduced in the ,, 1993 legislative session.

Mrs. Frazier, who moved to Westminster from Baltimore four years ago, said she used to shop at other malls and didn't notice a smoke problem. She said she doesn't want to trample the rights of smokers, but the Cranberry Mall ventilation system doesn't seem to be able to remove smoke from the air.

Ralph Green, chief of the county Bureau of Permits and Inspections, said the mall meets national building code ventilation standards. But he said no one in county government reviewed the ventilation plans submitted by Cranberry Mall's engineer or inspected to see if the air-handling units were installed as designed.

Mr. Green said he is satisfied the ventilating system meets requirements, "because the engineer who designed it is responsible for designing it to meet the standards."

The bureau chief said county policy is, "We say, 'You must design and install according to the BOCA [Building Officials and Code Administrators] code.' But we don't enforce it. It's part of the building code we don't regulate."

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