Bill would ban smoking in most public places

April 25, 1993|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Staff Writer

Howard County would be virtually smoke-free in two years if Councilman C. Vernon Gray has his way.

Mr. Gray put a 16-page anti-smoking bill into the council's legislative hopper Friday that would ban smoking in all public places except bars, effective July 1, 1995.

Restaurants containing bars had told him that if he did not provide that exemption, their customers would go elsewhere, said Mr. Gray, a 3rd District Democrat. Regardless, he said he expects bars too would be smoke-free by the time the restaurant ban would take effect.

"The intent [of the bill] is not to harm or hurt business," Mr. Gray said. "The two years is a phase-in period during which we can see how many more people have stopped smoking and how many businesses are hurt" by the ban.

Another advantage of the two-year phase-in period is that it allows time for the General Assembly to enact a statewide

anti-smoking ban, he said. Restaurant owners had told him they were not opposed to a total ban on smoking in Howard as long it applied to nearby counties and Baltimore as well, he said.

Meanwhile, Mr. Gray doesn't want the county to do nothing while waiting for a total ban to take effect. His bill includes provisions that would make the county's tough anti-smoking law tougher immediately.

The bill would reduce the amount of restaurant seating available to smokers, add to the amount of employee work space that must be smoke-free and forbid employers retaliating against nonsmokers who demand a smoke-free environment.

Restaurants seating 50 or more people would have to provide a nonsmoking area for at least 75 percent of the restaurant. Current law has no percentage requirement and applies to restaurants seating 75 or more.

Mr. Gray said he arrived at the 75 percent figure because of statistics he has seen that show that only a quarter of U.S. residents smoke. He expects that percentage to decline further.

Private residences would come under the smoking ban if used for day care.

The bill would prohibit smoking anywhere in those residences during the hours that they are used for day care.

Employers who have at least one employee would have to make any shared work area smoke-free. The current law applies only when there are six or more employees.

Hallways, photocopying rooms, conference rooms, classrooms and areas separated by partitions would constitute shared work areas where smoking would be illegal, under Mr. Gray's bill.

The bill states that "no person shall discharge, refuse to hire or in any manner retaliate" against nonsmokers, but it does not include penalties for people who do.

The bill directs the county's public information office to provide a brochure that would explain the bill to employers and restaurant owners.

"My primary concern is protecting young people and people affected by respiratory diseases," Mr. Gray said. "The January [Environmental Protection Agency] report offers further conclusive evidence of the harmful affects of side-stream smoke. Three thousand to 9,000 people a year die from it."

Accordingly, Mr. Gray has included a statement in the bill's preamble saying that "the County Council declares that tobacco smoke is a hazard to the health of the general public."

The purpose of the bill, the preamble states, is to "protect the public health, comfort and environment by prohibiting the smoking of tobacco products in public places, at public meetings and in places of employment."

Mr. Gray intends to introduce the bill at the May 3 council legislative session.

The council will hold public hearings on the bill May 17 and is expected to vote on it June 7.

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