Howard OKs ban on smoking in public But a veto is threatened HOWARD COUNTY

September 08, 1993|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Staff Writer

Undeterred by a threatened veto, the Howard County Council voted 4-1 last night to impose an almost total ban on public smoking, beginning July 1, 1996.

If enacted, the bill, which is nearly identical to one vetoed in June by County Executive Charles I. Ecker, would become one of the toughest anti-smoking laws on the East Coast.

Mr. Ecker said he plans to veto this bill as well. He had told the council he would sign the bill if exemptions and a so-called smokers' rights clause were removed.

The bill approved last night removed the smokers' rights clause but exempts the bar portion of restaurants if the area is sealed off from the restaurant and has a separate ventilating system.

Mr. Ecker has 10 days in which to veto the bill. The council's first opportunity to override the expected veto -- four of the five votes are needed to override -- will come Sept. 20.

The council was unable to override the June veto, but is almost certain to do so this time, thanks to the acceptance of a last-minute amendment proposed by Councilman Darrel Drown, R-2nd.

As written, the bill provided an exemption to any establishment that earned less than 50 percent of its revenue from food sales. Such an exemption could encourage drinking, Mr. Drown said, in that some establishments might offer two-for-one drinks to keep their alcohol sales ahead of their food sales and thus cater to smokers. Deleting the clause "will encourage less smoking," he said, "and sends out a stronger message."

Council Chairwoman Shane Pendergrass, D-1st, and C. Vernon Gray, D-3rd, the chief architect of the bill, supported Mr. Drown's amendment. Councilman Paul R. Farragut, D-4th, though opposed to the amendment, voted for the final bill, making it virtually veto-proof.

"I hope [Mr. Ecker] doesn't veto the bill, but I think he will," Mr. Drown said. "I'll more than likely vote to override."

Mr. Gray said he, too, hopes Mr. Ecker will sign the bill. "I hope he will show his concern for children and people with respiratory problems who are really affected by side-stream smoke and sign the bill," Mr. Gray said. "I am pleased with the vote of the council to proceed" with a smoking bill in the face of a threatened veto. "Pleased and proud."

The bill would ban smoking wherever food is prepared or eaten, beginning July 1, 1996. There could be no smoking allowed at any establishment "which gives or offers food for sale to the public, guests or employees," nor could there be smoking in kitchens or catering facilities "in which food is prepared on the premises for serving elsewhere."

Violations would be misdemeanors punishable by a fine not to exceed $100.

Other provisions of the bill would take effect as soon as the bill becomes law -- 60 days after passage or the overriding of a veto. Restaurants would have to reduce the amount of seating available to smokers, employers would have to increase the amount of smoke-free work space and owners of private residences would have to refrain from smoking if their homes were used for day care.

The rationale for waiting until July 1996 to impose a total smoking ban is to give the Maryland General Assembly time to enact a smoking prohibition statewide.

County restaurateurs told the council a statewide ban was necessary to keep businesses from fleeing to nearby counties. They had urged the council to wait until a statewide ban was imposed.

Bruce Bereano, the Annapolis lobbyist representing the Tobacco Institute, called council members supporting the bill "brick wall extremists" who care nothing about the economic health of the county. If council members think the General Assembly is going to ban smoking, they believe in the tooth fairy, he said.

Republican Charles C. Feaga, the lone councilman voting against the bill, said he thinks the law is unnecessary because businesses are going smokeless anyway.

"We can't interrupt the private world with legislation for everything that comes along," he said. "I know it's an unpopular position to take at this time, but I don't think the county can keep interfering with business."

Eric Gally, public affairs director for the Maryland Division of the American Cancer Society, sees it differently. "Obviously, we are very pleased that the Howard County Council has again taken this major step," Mr. Gally said. "We were not asking for the world, we were only asking that people be protected from the harmful effects of second-hand smoke. The bill may not be perfect, but it goes a long way toward protecting people's

health."

What sets Howard County apart from other other places in Maryland that have enacted tough no-smoking polices, said Mr. Gally, is a threefold thrust: no smoking in malls, work places and restaurants. No other city or county in Maryland has all three bans, he said.

Many businesses, office buildings, supermarkets, hospitals, jails, and government buildings throughout Maryland already have a no-smoking policy. Smoking has also been banned at the Cranberry Mall in Westminster and Towson Town Center mall.

A ban enacted by the Anne Arundel County Council affecting banks, classrooms, lecture halls, auditoriums, health care facilities, public meeting rooms, museums, libraries and rest rooms, took effect in July.

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