Smokers may face tougher times Ecker considers action to broaden county's ban

September 28, 1993|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Staff Writer

Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker said yesterday he may try to remove the exemptions from the county's recently enacted smoking ban.

When the ban takes effect in two years, the only smoking allowed in public will be at overnight truck stops, retail tobacco stores and in self-enclosed, separately ventilated bar areas of restaurants.

Mr. Ecker said he wants to eliminate the exemption for bars, but hasn't decided yet about the other exemptions. He said he will be examining the bill to determine which loopholes he wants to close.

He will probably put his bill on the November County Council docket, Mr. Ecker said. If so, the council would hold hearings on the bill mid-November and vote on it Dec. 6.

"If it's a health bill, there shouldn't be any exemptions," Mr. Ecker said.

Mr. Ecker said he would not file the legislation if the county is sued or if the smoking bill is petitioned to referendum. "It would be foolish [to sponsor the legislation] if a court case is brought," he said.

Tobacco lobbyist Bruce Bereano has said he will sue the county. Mr. Bereano contends the county overstepped its bounds Sept. 20 when it enacted a smoking ban nearly everywhere in the county.

Mr. Bereano contends smoking legislation falls within the purview of state government rather than county government. Because the General Assembly has considered a smoking bill without enacting a ban, Howard County's ban is illegal, Mr. Bereano said he believes.

Mr. Bereano used a similar argument recently to persuade the state's highest court to invalidate local laws banning the placement of cigarette machines from areas accessible to children.

A petition drive seems less likely than a court suit. No one other than a reporter has asked about the possibility, said Barbara Feaga, the election board administrator.

Mr. Ecker and the council have been at odds over the smoking ban since it was proposed last May. He preferred that the county wait until a ban was imposed statewide, but if the county was going to act first, Mr. Ecker wanted a bill without exemptions. The county's ban does not take effect until July 1, 1996, to allow time for the General Assembly to pass a ban statewide.

In June, the council passed a bill that exempted eating establishments that earn less than 50 percent of their income from food sales. The bill also contained a clause suggested by Mr. Bereano that made it illegal for employers to discriminate against smokers.

After Mr. Ecker vetoed the bill, he told council members he would sign a smoking bill if the council dropped the Bereano clause and if the bill contained no exemptions.

The council voted 4-1 on Sept. 7 for a bill that dropped the Bereano clause and further limited the exemptions but did not remove them altogether. As promised, Mr. Ecker vetoed this bill as well. The council overrode his veto Sept. 20.

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