Council may ban smoking in most public places Delay considered for restaurants

June 07, 1993|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Staff Writer

The Howard County Council may ban smoking in nearly all public places tonight, but a total smoking ban, which includes all sizes of restaurants, is likely to be put off for three years instead of the planned two years.

Sponsored by Councilman C. Vernon Gray, D-3rd, the 16-page bill would in 60 days add common areas such as copy rooms and hallways to work space that must be smoke-free, ban smoking in homes used for day care and reduce seating available to smokers in restaurants.

If backed by three of the five council members, the total ban on smoking in restaurants would go into effect July 1, 1995. Council members Paul Farragut, D-4th, and Darrel Drown, R-2nd, would put that date off for one year.

The proposed change is intended to give the state Legislature more opportunity to enact a statewide smoking ban. County restaurant owners testified that they would lose customers to other counties if only Howard County establishments banned smoking.

For the legislation to be enacted, however, it will probably need four of the five council members to vote for it, because County Executive Charles I. Ecker would like to see the bill drastically altered. Four votes are needed to override an executive veto.

"I'm concerned about what it would do the tourism of the county and to economic development," Mr. Ecker said.

Mr. Ecker introduced an amendment Friday that would put off the restaurant smoking ban until statewide legislation was enacted or until four of the five neighboring counties adopted such smoking bans.

"I do encourage a restaurant to voluntarily prohibit smoking, but until other counties around us or statewide [ban smoking], I could not see placing Howard County at a disadvantage," Mr. Ecker said.

Mr. Gray said he was disappointed that Mr. Ecker had proposed the amendment.

"Who's going to be first? Somebody's got to be first," he said, adding that the county is regarded as a pioneer in such regulatory areas. "People in the area and the region are looking to Howard County for leadership in this area."

Mr. Gray said the county's precedent-setting smoking ban in the Columbia Mall has worked well and that some county restaurants that have banned smoking have increased their business. Other county establishments would also benefit from the ban, he argued.

Councilman Charles C. Feaga, R-5th, said he sided with Mr. Ecker, but it appears unlikely that the executive's amendment could win the necessary three votes tonight.

The bill also provides for a two-year period during which the county government could study people's changing smoking habits and how the ban might affect business. The county Chamber of Commerce has asked for a longer period, which the amendments proposed by Mr. Farragut and Mr. Drown would allow.

Chamber representatives also expressed concern about the bill's exemption for taverns, which could attract smoking customers banned from restaurants. Mr. Farragut has proposed an amendment that would exempt an enclosed bar area within a restaurant if it had a separate ventilation system.

Mr. Gray said he does not see any difficulty with exempting taverns.

He said the bill is aimed at protecting children and people with respiratory problems, and "these are people who are not likely to be going into a bar."

Under the immediate provisions of the bill, employers with at least one employee would have to make any shared work area smoke-free.

The bill also forbids employers to fire or refuse to hire people who ask for a smoke-free workplace.

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