Many besieged smokers will quit rather than fight Public pressure, bans have impact

May 16, 1993|By Jean Marbella | Jean Marbella,Staff Writer

It's the new segregation, Richard Walker says. He and th other "minorities" are shunted off to a single pad of cement outside one door of their workplace, where they're subjected to rain, snow and indignities such as kids driving by and heckling them.

Amid reports that secondhand cigarette smoke causes cancer, more and more buildings -- and even outdoor venues such as the seating area at the Camden Yards ballpark and the lawn at Wolf Trap -- have gone smoke-free, much to the dismay of those who continue to indulge in this perfectly legal, yet increasingly disdained, activity.

"We're treated like criminals," says Mr. Walker, 46, a social studies teacher at North Harford High School, which along with other public schools in Harford County banned smoking even for teachers last July. "The kids drive by, open their windows and call out, 'Hey, gettin' your fix?' "

Smokers are feeling besieged these days, victims of what Mr. Walker calls "the nicotine Nazis" and painted into smaller and smaller corners where they can light up.

In the four months since the Environmental Protection Agency declared secondhand smoke a carcinogen, smoking has been banned:

* In the White House, as per Hillary Rodham Clinton's edict, and other federal buildings.

* On short-haul Amtrak trains.

* At local malls such as Towson Town Center -- which goes smoke-free tomorrow -- and Cranberry Mall in Westminster.

* At restaurants ranging from Mount Vernon's tony rooftop Citronelle to two McDonald's franchises in Hagerstown.

* And in, of all places, a bowling alley in Owings Mills.

"Ah yes, a bastion of anachronism," says Andy Luccock. He is marketing director for Fair Lanes, whose Owings Mills Bowling Center will butt-out on June 1. Mark Miller of the American Bowling Congress says there are an estimated 7,400 bowling alleys in the nation, and he has heard of only one other -- in the Dallas area -- that has banned smoking.

"It's the way things are going, frankly," Mr. Luccock says. "We know we'll lose a group of people by doing this, but we've also heard from people saying they'll bowl more often with us. We're just trying to create a healthy, smoke-free environment for families."

Fair Lanes' other 19 bowling alleys in the Baltimore area will continue to allow smoking, while, during the month of June, the Owings Mills site will offer smoking-cessation programs sponsored by the American Lung Association and free food, drink and game incentives for quitters.

Similarly, when Towson Town Center clears its air tomorrow, mall representatives will hand out sticks of gum and stop-smoking stickers and pamphlets. Towson Town also has been offering free smoking-cessation classes by the American Cancer Society both employees and customers in advance of the ban taking effect.

Public sentiment

And, if Vermont is any indication, this is only the beginning. Last month, legislators there passed a sweeping smoking ban that encompasses most buildings accessible to the public. Starting July 1, it will be illegal to smoke in the common areas of buildings from laundromats and barber shops to museums and banks. Restaurants, bars and hotels may continue to allow smoking in designated areas until July 1995, after which only those with a license for a "cabaret" -- a separate, enclosed area with entertainment and liquor but minimal food service -- may do so.

Of course, few businesses that voluntarily banned smoking would have done so unless public sentiment was already behind them. About one-fourth of America's adult population currently smokes, compared with the 1960s, when half were regular inhalers.

Increasingly, nonsmokers have demanded smoke-free places to work, eat, shop and take their children. And businesses fear they could be liable for damages should someone blame any illnesses on a smoky environment to which they were subjected.

"We had a lot of concerned customers writing us to consider going smoke-free, and a lot of mothers with strollers walking into our offices asking for that as well," says Christopher Schardt, Towson Town's general manager. "We've been monitoring calls, and they're easily 95 percent in favor."

Mr. Schardt says smoking was minimal at the mall anyway. The food court's smoking section, initially comprising about 75 seats, was halved within a couple of months after the mall's 1991 expansion and still is more than adequate, he says.

Businesses increasingly are finding that, rather than lose customers when smoking is banned, they attract new ones.

"It's been an enhancement. I'm drawing customers," says Mark Levine, who owns two smoke-free McDonald's restaurants in Hagerstown. They are among 40 of the chain's 9,000 locations participating in a nationwide test of customer response to smoke-free facilities.

Although the test began only in February, Mr. Levine already is convinced. Not only have sales increased, but so has the cleanliness of the facilities, he says. "There's no more smoke [residue] on the ceiling and wallpaper," he says.

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