Where There's No Smoke, There's Ire

June 15, 1993

Now that the Howard County Council has passed the toughest ban on cigarette smoking in the state, the sniping has intensified.

From the state legislature, Sen. Clarence W. Blount of Baltimore City, chairman of the Economic and Environmental Affairs Committee, is calling the measure too stringent. Contrary to what some had hoped, Senator Blount says he does not see a similar statewide ban on smoking on the horizon.

Meanwhile, Del. Virginia M. Thomas, D-Howard, is questioning an amendment to the new law that would bar employers from firing or refusing to hire someone merely because he or she smokes. Ms. Thomas contended that the amendment is "a slap in the face" to women and minorities because it puts smokers on equal footing as a class protected by law against discrimination. She also feels that a public hearing should have been held on that last-minute change.

The nay-saying does not stop there. Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker says that he will veto the anti-smoking bill, even though he concedes the county council has ample votes to quash his veto. A restaurant owner is also threatening to take the matter to court.

Except for Ms. Thomas, long an advocate of anti-smoking legislation, no one should be surprised by the clamor. It would have been better if a public hearing had been held on the amendment. But that provision simply underlines what most of us already well understand -- that smokers should not be discriminated against as long as they avoid smoking in restricted areas.

As for the complaint that Howard's ban will drive smokers to select restaurants outside the county when that part of the law takes effect in three years, that could just as easily go the other way. The positive publicity Howard will receive might turn county eateries into safe havens for non-smokers -- the larger and still-growing segment of the population. They may opt for dining experiences in Howard County to better enjoy their meals and to avoid exposure to harmful second-hand smoke.

At any rate, neither theory would have to be tested if the state legislature decided to enact a measure banning smoking in food establishments throughout Maryland -- as the state restaurant association has sought. We hope that Mr. Blount's disheartening prediction is wrong and that members of the General Assembly will buck the tobacco peddlers and do the right thing.

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