Proposed smoking ban draws little fire Move is seen as continuing trend in U.S.

October 30, 1993|By John W. Frece | John W. Frece,Staff Writer

Maryland's first-in-the nation effort to ban smoking in virtually every workplace in the state created barely a ripple yesterday.

Except for the tobacco industry, which obviously is opposed, business organizations and state officials alike reported a surprisingly light response to the proposal and relatively few calls in opposition.

On Thursday, state Licensing and Regulation Secretary William A. Fogle Jr. announced plans to use his office's authority to protect the health, welfare and safety of workers by prohibiting smoking in indoor and outdoor workplaces in Maryland. Employers would still be permitted to set aside separate areas where workers could go to smoke.

The emergency regulations are expected to be in final draft form next week, and would require legislative approval. The tobacco industry contends that the state lacks the legal authority to enact such regulations.

But groups that have been monitoring anti-smoking efforts nationwide said that while Maryland's proposal may go farther ,, than any other smoking restriction in the nation, it is merely the latest in a steady societal shift toward limiting when and where smokers may ply their habit.

Many large businesses and government agencies in Maryland have smoking restrictions in place for offices, factories or public buildings, and probably would not be affected that much if the proposed regulations go into effect, said Shelley Buckingham of Maryland's chapter of the American Lung Association.

A survey of how businesses handle the issue of smoking in the workplace, conducted by the Bureau of National Affairs Inc., and the Society for Human Resource Management, which represents personnel department employees around the country, said 85 percent of responding U.S. employers had smoking policies in effect in 1991. That figure was up sharply from 54 percent in 1987 and 38 percent in 1986.

"There is a lot of anecdotal evidence that businesses are going smoke-free voluntarily. It's definitely a growing trend," said Peter H. Fisher, who handles state affairs for the national Coalition on Smoking OR Health in Washington.

Christopher Costello, a vice president and legislative lobbyist for the Maryland Chamber of Commerce, said, "I have not gotten any adverse reaction. . . . This is not something that employers and the state have been crossing swords over up to this point."

Mr. Costello also sits on the board of the Maryland Restaurant Association, and he said the biggest concern restaurants and other businesses have is that they are all treated equally -- that regulations do not single out one segment of the business community and place it at a competitive disadvantage.

"It is possible that what [Mr. Fogle] wants to do can be done voluntarily," he suggested. "That might be preferable for him and for everybody, but we'll see."

Thomas S. Sequella, executive director of the Maryland Retail Merchants Association, said he has received "no feedback" whatsoever from his members. If a problem develops, he said, it may be that small "mom and pop" stores with only a few employees might object to being told what they can do in their own stores.

As long as employers are allowed to designate areas for smokers, and if an exclusion for the smallest stores could be worked out, he said, "I think it comes off as a reasonable thing, and it makes some sense. But just a blanket prohibition doesn't make sense."

Mr. Fogle said that apart from news media calls from as far away as New York and Seattle, he received about 40 calls from Marylanders, three of which "were negative." One, he said, was from a female smoker who said the state would be better served if it cracked down on guns rather than cigarettes.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer's office reported a half-dozen calls, four of them from smokers opposed to the idea.

"In concept, he's behind it," said press secretary Page W. Boinest, who said Mr. Schaefer still wants to review the details of the regulations to make sure they do not hurt businesses.

But she said the proposal fits perfectly with the administration's cancer-prevention efforts that are already focusing on ways to -- curtail smoking, which is blamed for causing 85 percent of the lung cancer cases in Maryland.

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