State smoking ban delayed again


June 09, 1994|By Kim Clark | Kim Clark,Sun Staff Writer

Last October, after three Baltimore city school workers died in a horrific blast sparked by a cigar match, Maryland Secretary of Licensing William A. Fogle Jr. promised to ban smoking in Maryland workplaces by early 1994.

But today -- nearly nine months after his vow -- Mr. Fogle's mission has been delayed once again.

The state agreed to put off the regulations again (proponents had hoped they would take effect as early as June 20), so that a legislative committee can hold a public hearing to decide whether second-hand smoke is dangerous enough to support a total ban.

Mr. Fogle slowed down his anti-smoking drive last winter to prevent the state legislature from killing the ban.

Now, he's agreed to another delay to allow legislators to make recommendations on his proposal. That angers anti-smoking activists, who charge the officials are bowing to the tobacco lobby.

Since Maryland Occupational Safety and Health, the agency that is planning to adopt the smoking ban, has already held three all-day hearings, "we don't believe there is any reason for a [legislative] hearing," said Eric Gally, spokesman for the Maryland Coalition on Smoking OR Health.

"But the tobacco industry is very influential," he said.

But legislators insisted yesterday that the hearings will actually help the ban.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer can adopt the ban without legislative approval. But the lawmakers say they want to make sure the ban is supported by scientific proof and a legislative record, so that it can withstand a court challenge.

Del. John A. Hurson says legislative attorneys have warned that there might not be enough scientific evidence about the dangers of secondhand smoke to support an outright ban.

Under federal law, regulations can be passed only if there is a proven and significant risk of a danger to workers, said Mr. Hurson, who co-chairs the committee that will hold the hearings.

"The scientific evidence that has been submitted in support of the regulations is about the effects of secondhand smoke on people who live with smokers" not people who work with them, he noted.

In addition, since the legislature has voted down similar ban proposals in the past, the tobacco attorneys likely will argue that it isn't proper for the executive branch to ignore the wishes of the people's elected representatives.

Mr. Hurson, a Montgomery County Democrat, said he and the other committee chair, Sen. Paula C. Hollinger, have personal reasons to fight cigarette smoking. He's married to a doctor, he noted. And Ms. Hollinger, a Baltimore County Democrat, is a nurse.

Bruce Bereano, lead lobbyist for the Tobacco Institute, said yesterday he will warn the legislators that the ban "will be injurious and invasive to private lifestyles and the business economy."

But since he expects the state to go ahead and adopt the ban, he said he's already planning his court case.

The Joint Administrative, Executive and Legislative Review Committee will hold the hearing June 15 at 1 p.m. in the committee hearing room at 90 State Circle in Annapolis.

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