Puffers slip through smoking law loophole Police seek to compel violators to identify themselves

July 29, 1993|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,Staff Writer

Anne Arundel County's law restricting where smokers can light up took effect in June, but police officers are hindered by a loophole as they try to enforce it.

The law bans smoking in many public places and mandates police to issue civil citations to violators. But the offender can blow smoke at the officer because to write up a citation, police need the offender's name. No name, no citation.

There's no penalty for refusing to identify oneself because no such provision was put in the bill when it was passed in May.

"Suppose you are in a mall, and you go over to someone and say 'Put out the cigarette.' The person says 'No.' And you say, 'OK, please show me identification,' and he says 'No.' So what do you do? Walk away and get a Coke, I guess," County Police Chief Robert P. Russell said last night.

The smoker would have to be doing something criminally wrong to get arrested, and blowing smoke rings in a no-smoking section of a restaurant would not qualify no matter how much nearby patrons fume.

The County Council is moving to close that loophole. Under a proposed measure, refusal to identify oneself to a police officer would be a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $50.

Chief Russell testified in support of the bill at a public hearing last night and said that the smoking ban ordinance can't be enforced without the new bill.

Police have yet to come across an uncooperative smoker, Chief Russell said.

"We believe that in most cases we are going to get voluntary compliance," he told the council. Nevertheless, he asked for the new law.

The council is expected to vote on the bill on Monday.

Council Chairman David G. Boschert said that because the anti-smoking ordinance went through much discussion and changes over several months, the council overlooked inserting a provision to penalize violators who refuse to identify themselves to officers.

The proposed measure is modeled after a provision in state law which makes it a misdemeanor to refuse to show identification when asked by a police officer issuing a civil citation for an alcohol offense.

Conspicuously absent from the hearing was Bruce C. Bereano, tobacco industry lobbyist who has said he is thinking of challenging the smoking restrictions.

But Mr. Boschert said he would give Mr. Bereano an opportunity to address the enforcement provision should he appear at Monday's meeting.

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