First against second-hand smoke

July 01, 1993

Howard County Del. Virginia Thomas seems certain she can persuade the 1994 General Assembly to pass a statewide ban on smoking in public places.

While we don't share her optimism, we commend her for her persistent fight against the deadly effects of second-hand smoke.

How deadly? A report by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found that "secondary" tobacco fumes annually cause 3,000 lung cancer deaths among non-smokers and up to 300,000 cases of bronchitis and pneumonia in children.

Credit Ms. Thomas also for the way she handled a meeting last week at which 19 business leaders and health professionals discussed the ban idea. This diverse group included representatives of the American Cancer Society, the Howard County Chamber of Commerce, the Maryland Association of County Health Officials, the Maryland Farm Bureau, the Maryland Parents and Teachers Association, the Maryland Retail Merchants Association and the Restaurant Association of Maryland.

Odds are not everyone in the room saw eye to eye. Still, it speaks well of Ms. Thomas that she tried to bring these people together. When she introduces her bill next year, she'll have avoided blind-siding the interested parties, thereby preventing undue hostility to the idea from the start.

Tobacco industry lobbyist Bruce Bereano was noticeably absent from last week's conference. He had been placed on the "don't invite" list by some of the anti-smoking advocates who took part. Ms. Thomas still said after the gathering that she intended to meet with Mr. Bereano, a generous if futile gesture. Her remark that she doubted Mr. Bereano would be amenable to a statewide smoking ban must rank as one of the understatements of the year.

Meanwhile, the Howard County Council plans to hold a public hearing and then a vote on legislation that would give Howard the toughest anti-smoking law in Maryland. Councilman C. Vernon Gray's bill would ban smoking in all public places except bars and taverns after July 1, 1996. Mr. Gray has tinkered with the bill, hoping to block a repeat of County Executive Charles Ecker's veto of an earlier version of the plan.

As Mr. Ecker has nervously pointed out, proposals such as Mr. Gray's and Ms. Thomas' put Howard out-front in anti-smoking legislation. But that's good. Out front is just where the county and the state should be on such a crucial health issue.

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