Md. ban near on smoking

March 03, 1994|By Marina Sarris | Marina Sarris,Sun staff writer

A regulation banning smoking in virtually every workplace in Maryland will be approved within days and could take effect by spring, a top state official said yesterday.

A state advisory board endorsed the ban yesterday, clearing the way for final action, said Licensing and Regulation Secretary William A. Fogle.

Mr. Fogle said he would approve the ban -- which he proposed in the first place -- in the next few days.

If everything goes as planned, the measure would go into effect in about three months, making Maryland the first state in the nation to ban smoking in almost all workplaces.

Before that can happen, however, the regulation will have to withstand challenges from the powerful tobacco lobby, which contends Mr. Fogle does not have the power to ban workplace smoking.

The proposed ban was hailed yesterday by anti-smoking forces.

"In the long term, it's going to save lives. It's going to allow people who want to protect themselves from second-hand smoke to do so," said Eric Gally, a spokesman for the Maryland affiliates of the American Cancer Society, American Heart Association and American Lung Association.

Those groups point to studies linking second-hand smoke to cancer, lung ailments and heart attacks in nonsmokers.

Maryland has the second-highest cancer death rate in the country.

Not surprisingly, the Tobacco Institute in Washington strongly disagrees with both the studies and the proposed ban. "It obviously is based on bad science. It puts an extraordinarily unreasonable burden on employers," said institute vice president Walker Merryman.

The Tobacco Institute's man in Annapolis, mega-lobbyist Bruce C. Bereano, vowed to challenge the ban in court.

State regulators "legally have no authority to do this," he said. Even if they did, he said, they would have to have solid scientific studies to back up their action.

A study by the Environmental Protection Agency flags the risks of second-hand smoke to nonsmokers, but Mr. Bereano said that study is "garbage."

Mr. Fogle, believing otherwise, proposed the smoking ban in all indoor and outdoor workplaces last fall.

The Maryland Occupational Safety and Health Advisory Board, which is made up of 11 citizens, held public hearings on the proposal before recommending it yesterday.

That board, however, proposed excluding some workplaces originally covered by the regulation.

The board's proposal now goes to Commissioner of Labor and Industry Henry Koellein and Mr. Fogle, who are likely to give the revisions serious consideration.

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