No-smoking bill's foes, backers lock horns

February 11, 1993|By John Rivera | John Rivera,Staff Writer

Supporters and opponents of a bill that would restrict smoking in offices, hotels, restaurants and other public places squared off during a hearing last night before the County Council.

The bill, introduced by Maureen Lamb, an Annapolis Democrat, seeks to limit smoking in public places to designated areas that curb exposure to nonsmokers. Smokers who light up in nonsmoking areas could face maximum penalties of six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Although the issue sparked impassioned debate on both sides, the turnout at the hearing -- a little more than 50 people -- was not noteworthy for such a controversial bill.

The forces opposed to the smoking restrictions were led by Bruce C. Bereano, an Annapolis lawyer representing the Tobacco Institute. He said the bill was a slam at smokers, who have recently become politically incorrect and are an easy target.

"Smoking has been blamed for everything except the existence of Saddam Hussein," he said.

He also called the bill an unnecessary intrusion by government into the affairs of private business people. In his own law office, for example, one of his employees could dictate to him whether smoking would be allowed.

"I'm going to scratch my head and say, 'Whose business is this? Is it mine, or is it the employee's?' " he said.

Representatives of the many business groups opposing the bill -- including the Maryland Retail Merchants Association, the Anne Arundel County Farm Bureau and the Restaurant Association of Maryland -- were also scheduled to testify.

Ms. Lamb said the purpose of her legislation was to protect nonsmokers from secondhand smoke's dangers.

"We all know that breathing secondhand smoke is as dangerous as breathing asbestos," she said.

She based her assertion on an Environmental Protection Agency study released last month on secondhand smoking. Dr. Steven Bayard, one of the authors of that report, told the council last night that tobacco smoke "belongs in EPA's category of Group A, or known human carcinogens. The EPA has grouped only 15 other compounds as know human carcinogens, including radon, asbestos, arsenic and benzene."

Dr. Katherine Farrell, the county's acting health officer, said that smoking was the cause of 826 deaths in Anne Arundel in 1989. "That's about 16 deaths every week, a sizable number of the obituaries that we see," she said.

Dr. Robert Peterson, an Annapolis lung specialist, scoffed at the idea that the smoking restrictions would harm businesses.

"Believe me, if people smoke less, there will be no one who will lose more business than me as a physician," he said. He estimated that 90 percent of his patients were suffering from smoking-related diseases.

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