Smoke-free at the mall

July 08, 1993

Slowly but surely, shopping malls in the Baltimore metropolitan area are boarding the anti-smoking bandwagon. Some have been required by government edict, as in Howard and Anne Arundel counties, while Cranberry Mall in Carroll County and Towson Town Center in Baltimore County have voluntarily erected "No Smoking" signs.

Now Baltimore County's seven other major malls have agreed to back a County Council bill that would revoke their exemption from the jurisdiction's anti-smoking laws.

This is a wise move by the mall operators. First, their united stand ensures that none of them could complain of an uneven playing field where smoking policies are concerned. Indeed, it's unlikely any of the malls would have supported the proposed legislation had all of them not agreed to do so.

Second, their support acknowledges the mounting evidence that secondary smoke" is lethal. As a recent report of the Environmental Protection Agency found, second-hand smoke annually causes 3,000 lung cancer deaths among non-smokers and up to 300,000 cases of bronchitis and pneumonia in children. Statistics such as these should be of particular interest Baltimore County, where the two fastest-growing population groups are children and senior citizens.

Of course, altruism isn't the sole motive of the mall operators, who are no doubt as fearful of exposing themselves to liability lawsuits as they are worried about exposing patrons to a health threat.

Co-sponsored by County Council members Melvin Mintz and William Howard, the bill is the latest effort to toughen local anti-smoking laws. Lighting up in most areas of county buildings has long been outlawed, and was banned earlier this year in county police and jail buildings. Mr. Mintz has also been working with Councilman Donald Mason on legislation that would prohibit smoking even in the most private cubicles of county offices.

Managers of malls where smoking has been restricted say the impact on business and foot traffic has ranged from negligible to markedly positive. In any case, most mall operators seem to understand that a smoke-free environment is destined to become as much a mall fixture as free parking, the water fountain with scores of pennies on its floor and the vending cart that sells cheesy jewelry and T-shirts. Increasingly, as in Baltimore County, government is sending the message that merchants can board the anti-smoking bandwagon on their own or with a helpful boot from behind.

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