Former Cabinet health secretary endorses ban on smoking in the workplace

December 17, 1993|By Greg Tasker | Greg Tasker,Staff Writer

FREDERICK -- Dr. Louis W. Sullivan, former secretary of health and human services, endorsed yesterday a proposal by Maryland officials to ban smoking in the workplace.

"It is time that we accept that protection from secondhand smoke and other preventable hazards is a right for all citizens, and the government has a responsibility to protect workers from exposure to toxins that are inhaled from the use of tobacco products," the former Bush administration official said.

Dr. Sullivan, who steadfastly and visibly fought smoking during his four years in office and continues to do so, is now president of the Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta.

He was among more than 30 people who testified at an all-day public hearing in Frederick -- the second of two -- before the Maryland Occupational Safety and Health Advisory Board.

Maryland would be the first state in the nation to ban smoking in all workplaces if -- as many officials expect -- the regulation is adopted in the General Assembly session that opens in January.

The proposal would prohibit workers from smoking in a "place of employment," the scope of which will be determined during the board's deliberations, which could begin next month.

Several anti-smoking crusaders urged the board to recommend that customers be prohibited from smoking in restaurants and bars as well. The proposal's intent is to protect workers from the dangers of secondhand smoke.

If approved by the advisory board and higher-ups in the state Department of Licensing and Regulation -- whose chief came up with the idea -- Maryland smokers would have to take a smoke outside during work hours.

Among the proponents who testified yesterday were county public health officials, citizens, and spokesmen for the National Cancer Institute, the American Lung Association and the Coalition for a Smoke-Free Work Place.

Each cited studies that linked secondhand smoke to cancer, lung ailments and heart attacks in non- smokers.

Dr. Sullivan said tobacco-related diseases cause more than 435,000 deaths each year.

Nelson J. Sabatini, secretary of the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and a former smoker, also backed the legislation. "The time has come to stand up and say we're not going to take this anymore," he said.

Dr. Rex Archer, Garrett County's health officer, presented the board with 17 letters from businesses and organizations in the state's westernmost county that support the ban.

Among the opposition at yesterday's hearing, a toxicologist and an indoor air specialist sent by the Tobacco Institute -- representing the tobacco industry -- refuted findings of an Environmental Protection Agency study and others outlining the risks of secondhand smoke.

Bruce C. Bereano, the Tobacco Institute's lobbyist in Annapolis, said the board's focus should be on whether secondhand smoke is a hazard for workers and not whether smoking is a health concern.

"You've heard a lot of political speeches by office holders. . . . A lot of these people don't want people to smoke. . . . That's not what this is all about," he said.

Mr. Bereano has pledged to challenge the state's authority to bar smoking by administrative regulation if the policy is adopted. He said the board should not ignore the fact that the state legislature has rejected a smoking ban in the workplace three years in a row.

Other opponents to the proposed measure included the Frederick County Chamber of Commerce, Westvaco and Clem Kaikis, president of Paul's Restaurant in Arbutus, who said the ban would hurt his business.

"If smoking is going to go the way of the dinosaur, it should be through the free market [system]. . . . If you want to attack the problem, stop the sale of cigarettes," Mr. Kaikis said.

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