Smoking ban's exception for bars is accepted by some as occupational hazard Health officials warn of peril

September 28, 1993|By Sherry Joe | Sherry Joe,Staff Writer

Lloyd Edwards is not a smoker, but he works around smokers almost constantly at the Phoenix Emporium in Historic Ellicott City. The bartender said he knows secondhand smoke is unhealthy for him but that he isn't worried.

"They have studies on everything," Mr. Edwards said. "What are you going to believe?"

Anti-smoking advocates say that cavalier attitude could cost Mr. Edwards and others like him their lives.

"Secondhand smoke has significantly higher concentrations of toxins than mainstream smoke," said Rick North of the American Cancer Society office that works with Howard County.

For those who work or live around secondhand smoke, the health risks are enormous, he said. "You're getting smoke coming out of the end of a cigarette and what's [exhaled from] smokers' bodies. It's like getting a double shot."

Mr. Edwards and other Howard County bartenders, waiters and waitresses are directly affected by an exception to the county's tough new anti-smoking law.

Though the law bans smoking in most public places by 1996, it will continue to allow it in enclosed bar areas with separate ventilating systems, even though such systems leave tobacco smoke in the air.

The exception is intended to provide a place in bars and restaurants for smokers, says to County Council Chairwoman Shane Pendergrass, a 1st District Democrat.

County Executive Charles I. Ecker tried in vain this month to block the anti-smoking measure, saying he was concerned about "the bartenders, waiters and waitresses who will have to work in those smoking areas."

"I worry about everybody," said Mr. Ecker, adding that he plans to propose eliminating the exemption that allows smoking in some public places. "I think if it's bad for one group, it's not good for another group."

According to the American Cancer Society, about 53,000 people die each year from secondhand smoke.

And it doesn't take long for secondhand smoke to strike, Mr. North said. Environmental tobacco smoke impairs blood circulation immediately by raising carbon monoxide levels in the bloodstream.

"The stuff is vicious," Mr. North said. "I think people know it's bad for you, but I don't think they know how bad."

Judi Heyn, an administrator at the Last Chance in Columbia has taken aggressive measures to protect herself against tobacco smoke.

"No one smokes in my house; no one smokes in my car," said Ms. Heyn, who has also banned smoking in her office at the Oakland Mills restaurant and bar.

Tobacco smoke "is not good for the computers; it's not good for me," said Ms. Heyn, adding that "smoke is worse than dust" for computers.

Some restaurant workers accept secondhand smoke as an occupational hazard.

"It's not a topic of conversation around here," Mr. Edwards said of the Phoenix Emporium, where a majority of the staff members smoke.

"I choose to work in a restaurant, so I have no position to say that I can't deal with secondhand smoke," said Ann Fulks, a bartender at the Last Chance.

Restaurateurs, meanwhile, note that there are fewer smoking sections at area restaurants these days, and that many establishments, including the Last Chance, have sophisticated ventilation systems that eliminate much tobacco smoke.

Machines known as electrostatic precipitators recycle air by producing positively charged ions that attach themselves to dust and smoke particles, which are then drawn into a filter. A charcoal filter also deodorizes the cleaned air, which is then recirculated into the room.

Such machines eliminate about 80 percent of the smoke from a room, said Bill Childress, a sales representative with Smoke Eater in Baltimore.

Another device, known as an ionizer, also sends out positively charged ions but does not recycle air.

Some proprietors say there are limits to what they can do to accommodate nonsmoking employees.

At Cacao Lane Restaurant in Historic Ellicott City, owner Al Parsons said he would place nonsmoking workers in nonsmoking areas or place them on shifts where they wouldn't be exposed to secondhand smoke.

But he warned that such workers, by limiting themselves, would be unattractive to employers looking for versatile, full-time employees.

"People who object to it are going to be at a disadvantage," Mr. Parsons said. "Once you start limiting yourself to what you can do, people will look at you like you don't need to work that bad."

Despite such limitations, anti-smoking advocates said they welcome the smoking ban.

"The American Cancer Society supports it as a positive first step in the right direction," Mr. North said. "The end result is that every employee in Howard County has the right to a smoke-free environment. I think it's just a matter of time."

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