Council nears vote on smoking Amended bill would eliminate exemptions to ban

July 19, 1993|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Staff Writer

The Howard County Council is expected to approve a tough new smoking ban this week without any exceptions.

The anti-smoking bill, which is the last item on the agenda at tonight's public hearing, would ban smoking in public places beginning July 1, 1996, making it the toughest anti-smoking law in the state.

As written, the bill exempts bars and taverns. But on Friday, 2nd District Councilman Darrel Drown submitted an amendment which would strike that exemption.

"I'm really afraid we're going to have internal competition within the county" if the exemption is not lifted, he said.

The bill defines restaurants as establishments earning more than 50 percent of their income from food. Taverns are defined as earning more than 50 percent of their income from alcohol.

A restaurant and nearby tavern with similar receipts could engage in an enforcement battle -- each accusing the other of violating the law to get smoking privileges, Mr. Drown said.

"Enforcement would be a heck of a lot easier without those internal conflicts," Mr. Drown said.

Mr. Drown said he also wanted to strike the exemption for health reasons. "It simply does not protect owners, employees and customers from the effects of secondhand smoke," he said. "Some of the people exposed to secondhand smoke in a bar or tavern may not be there voluntarily."

The argument for exempting bars and taverns in a nearly identical bill approved by the council June 7 was that children and older people -- two groups most likely to be adversely affected by secondhand smoke -- would not be frequenting such places.

County Executive Charles I. Ecker disagreed, saying it was hard to distinguish between a county restaurant that serves alcohol and a county tavern that serves food. He vetoed the bill June 18 because it contained both the bar and tavern exemption and a so-called "smokers' rights" clause.

Mr. Ecker told members of the council he would sign the bill if the smokers' rights clause and the bar and tavern exemption were removed.

The new bill dropped the smokers' rights clause, but kept the bar and tavern exemption. Mr. Ecker said he would veto it again unless the exemption is dropped also.

"My intention is not to drive business out of the county," Mr. Drown said. "My idea is to provide a healthier, safer work environment. The argument against a total smoking ban is that smokers will float across the county line. I think we will get a reverse flow. I plan to monitor the situation closely."

Mr. Drown had planned an identical amendment to the earlier smoking bill, but withdrew it just as the council was preparing to vote.

"I didn't want to add any more controversy," he said.

The council will vote on the amendment and the smoking bill Thursday.

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