No Smoking in Baltimore County

April 22, 1993

Lobbyists for the tobacco and restaurant industries aren't about to quit fighting legislative attempts to ban public smoking. Still, they must feel more and more these days that they're engaged in a losing battle.

Smoking's deadly effects on smokers have been widely known since the landmark mid-'60s report of the United States Surgeon General. Only in the past several years have both the public and private sectors come around to the idea that smoking harms non-smokers as well and should be banned in many public places.

Politicians and merchants, as fearful of liability lawsuits as they are concerned about public health, have begun heeding the growing body of scientific evidence that "secondary smoke" is lethal. Perhaps the most damning findings came in a recent Environmental Protection Agency report. It said secondary smoke annually causes 3,000 lung cancer deaths among non-smokers and up to 300,000 cases of bronchitis and pneumonia in children.

The latest local ban was announced this week by the managers of Towson Town Center. They said smoking won't be permitted in most areas of the shopping mall beginning May 17. Last year the Howard County Council prohibited smoking in that jurisdiction's enclosed malls, and officials of Cranberry Mall in Westminster took the unusual step of erecting "No Smoking" signs without first being required to do so by government edict.

Like other local subdivisions, Baltimore County in recent years has enacted anti-smoking measures for its public facilities. Smoking was banned in open areas of county buildings six years ago, though private offices and some restrooms were exempted. The County Council withdrew the restroom exemption last fall. Now Councilman Melvin Mintz, the driving force behind those bills, is working with Councilman Donald Mason on legislation that would prohibit smoking even in the most private cubicles of county structures.

Smoking was also outlawed earlier this year in all Baltimore County police and jail buildings. Courts were covered by Court of Appeals Chief Judge Robert Murphy's order last November banning smoking in all Maryland court facilities.

Smokers say such bans violate their rights. But in a democracy, one's right to a certain practice ends when that practice threatens someone else's well-being. The evidence is clear: Smoking harms non-smokers, not to mention the smokers themselves. These restrictions make good sense.

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