Smoking debate sparked County bill urges limits on lighting up

businesses balk

February 07, 1993|By John Rivera | John Rivera,Staff Writer

Councilwoman Maureen Lamb hopes anti-smoking sentiment will finally carry the day, as her bill limiting smoking to designated areas in restaurants, hotels, offices and other public places comes before the Anne Arundel County Council on Wednesday.

But a coalition of business groups, chambers of commerce and unions would like to see the bill itself go up in smoke.

"I think it's flawed from the get-go," said Bruce C. Bereano, an Annapolis lawyer representing the Tobacco Institute and a leader of the coalition against the bill. "The bill is very intrusive in terms of government interference into the private workplace and even in public areas."

Under the bill, smokers who light up in nonsmoking areas could receive a fine of up to $1,000 and a jail sentence of up to six months.

"My stepmother died of lung cancer, and she never smoked a cigarette. My father was an avid smoker. That always bothered me," said Ms. Lamb, a former smoker who quit 30 years ago. "This bill says the nonsmoker has a right to a smoke-free environment. He should not be subjected to smoke if he doesn't want to be."

The bill, similar to 1987 legislation proposed by Ms. Lamb that was overwhelmingly defeated by the council, would limit smoking in public areas to a closed-off room or separate area designated by a business owner or employer.

Public places affected by the bill include banks, cafeterias, classrooms, health care facilities, public areas of hotels and motels, public meeting rooms, restrooms, theaters and other entertainment halls, and stores employing more than eight people. Bars, bowling alleys, tobacco shops, private parties and certain long-term health care facilities are exempted from the restrictions.

The bill mandates nonsmoking areas for restaurants seating more than 50 people, but only until 10 p.m. A company that employs more than 10 people would have to provide a smoke-free working environment to any employee who requests it.

On Ms. Lamb's side are the American Lung Association, several prominent medical professionals who will testify in favor of the bill at the public hearing Wednesday night, and the county's acting health officer, Dr. Katherine Farrell.

"We certainly don't want to force people to stop smoking, that's their choice," Dr. Farrell said. "But the nonsmokers do deserve protection." She noted elevated rates among county residents of every disease related to smoking, including heart disease and infant mortality.

But opposition to the bill includes almost every business organization in the county: The Annapolis & Anne Arundel County Conference & Visitors Bureau, the Anne Arundel Trade Council, the Maryland State & D.C. AFL-CIO, the Maryland Retail Merchants Association, the Greater Annapolis Chamber of Commerce, the Maryland Hotel and Motel Association, and Historic Inns of Annapolis -- all wrote letters opposing the legislation to Ms. Lamb and the council.

Similar legislation has been passed in Howard, Prince George's, Montgomery and Baltimore counties. The law is perhaps most stringent in Howard County, where smoking is prohibited in shopping malls, and store and restaurant owners who do not enforce the smoking law are subject to the same fine as the offender.

Retail store owners object to being included under the bill's provisions, saying that they are already covered by state law, which bans smoking in stores that employ more than 25 people.

"That works out fine," said M. Beth Conte, executive assistant to the president of the Maryland Retail Merchants Association. But "now we're getting down to even smaller stores, mom and pop stores."

"I don't think you can legislate good business," said Tom Negri, president of the visitors bureau and manager of the Loews Annapolis Hotel. "And good business is, you cater to the needs of your customers. You adjust to the needs of your clientele."

There also is concern that the county could be perceived as hostile to smoking visitors, which could harm the tourism and convention business. "If Anne Arundel County is viewed as a place where their members who smoke can't come here and enjoy their habit, we may lose their business," said Jeanette D. Wessel, executive vice president of the Anne Arundel Trade Association.

Some restaurant owners are concerned about the bill's requirement that they must inform their patrons who transgress the law of their misdeeds. "We are in the hospitality business," said Jan Hardesty, owner of the Middleton Tavern in Annapolis. "We don't want to be the heavies who go around and slap handcuffs on people because they're smoking."

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