Just One Skirmish in Smoking War

March 10, 1994

The fight against the tobacco industry has always been an up and down affair in Howard County. The latest evidence of that is in the County Council's decision to drop a resolution that would have encouraged county business owners to get rid of cigarette vending machines.

The council did not have to retreat. But faced with two $1.5 million lawsuits brought by the tobacco industry's lawyer, Bruce C. Bereano, the council quickly scurried for cover.

Mr. Bereano accomplished his goal even though his chance of success in court was in doubt.

The Maryland Court of Appeals ruled in September that only the state had the power to regulate cigarette vending machines. Mr. Bereano contended that the council's resolution amounted to a restriction or ban, even though the measure only encouraged businesses to remove the machines.

The tobacco industry also filed suit claiming that a council bill requiring labels to be posted on vending machines, warning against the sale of cigarettes to minors, was illegal.

In place of the resolution, the Howard council approved a measure asking that the General Assembly allow local jurisdictions to regulate vending machines, as well as to pass legislation banning the machines from places frequented by minors.

The council has also moved to delete the warning label bill. A vote is set for April 4.

Mr. Bereano reacted to the council's decisions with satisfaction, pointing out that state legislative committees have already killed measures similar to ones the council is proposing.

Still, it was a small victory for an increasingly despised industry. Howard lawmakers have already promulgated a smoking ban in nearly all public places in the county.

The Environmental Protection Agency report that linked second-hand tobacco smoke to lung cancer and other respiratory ailments was a devastating blow to the industry. Now the Food and Drug Administration and Congress threaten to limit the content of addictive nicotine in smokes.

Jurisdiction after jurisdiction has jumped on the bandwagon to restrict smoking. The state's regulatory secretary wants to ban smoking in all workplaces, including bars and restaurants, for health reasons. The Pentagon is banning smoking, too. The tobacco lobby is on the defensive. In that light, it may be immaterial that the County Council lost its latest battle. In the overall war, the anti-smoking forces have the advantage.

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