Tobacco lobbyist turns tobacco foe

June 16, 1994|By Kim Clark | Kim Clark,Sun Staff Writer

ANNAPOLIS -- The last time Victor L. Crawford, a tall, patrician former state senator, testified before the General Assembly here, he was working for the tobacco industry and tried to kill a bill that would have hurt cigarette sales.

Yesterday, gaunt and wearing a wig to hide the baldness caused by his cancer treatments, Mr. Crawford told a surprised panel of lawmakers: "I deserve to pay the piper."

Mr. Crawford, who smoked heavily until he was diagnosed with cancer of the larynx in 1991, said he now regrets working as a lobbyist for the tobacco industry, and he pleaded with legislators to quickly endorse a statewide ban on smoking in the workplace.

Mr. Crawford appeared at the fourth public hearing on a long-delayed proposal that would put Maryland at the head of the nation's anti-smoking movement. Although 29 states have passed some kind of public smoking regulation, only the state of Washington has enacted a ban as sweeping as Maryland's proposal, state officials said.

The proposed ban, first put forward after three Baltimore school workers died in an explosion sparked by a cigar match in October, has been slowed by pressure from the powerful tobacco lobby.

But Mr. Crawford warned against listening to tobacco lobbyists. "I did it for the money," he said of his six years of efforts at weakening anti-smoking bills.

He remembered with irony his success in persuading the General Assembly to put a clause in the law that bans smoking on elevators that allows for fines only if a no-smoking sign is posted and a uniformed police officer is present. "That's why that law is unenforceable," he said with a rueful laugh.

And now?

In a voice left gravelly from an operation to remove tumors in his throat, Mr. Crawford told a packed hearing room: "I feel like an absolute ass."

"I know what [tobacco] is," he said. "And it is a killer.

"I feel like a lobbyist for the National Rifle Association whose son was gunned down by a homeless person with a Saturday Night special."

The doctors have told the 62-year-old Rockville attorney he's in remission now. He said they've given him "five years, maybe 10."

The proposal now being considered by Maryland Occupational Safety and Health (MOSH) isn't perfect, Mr. Crawford conceded, saying he wonders about the wisdom of banning smoking in places such as bars, or in homes that serve as workplaces.

But "those problems can be straightened out later," he said, asking for the legislators' support.

Because the proposal has been made through regulatory channels, it does not require the approval of the General Assembly, but the legislators are allowed to review regulations and advise the administration.

Outside the hearing room, puffing on a cigarette in the wilting heat, waitress and cancer patient Darlene Frazier was skeptical.

The single mother of three said she doesn't believe her breast cancer is related to her one-pack-a-day habit. And she thinks the state's proposed ban will cost her money and reduce her pleasure in life.

If people can't smoke in bars like that of her employer -- Pat's Bar & Grill in Lexington -- they'll probably buy beer and drink it at home, she said. And that will mean less income for her.

Several members of the Administrative, Executive and Legislative Review Committee grilled state administrators over whether the proposal would allow inspectors to fine homeowners who smoke and hire people to work in their homes.

But the officials, including Henry Koellein, who heads the Division of Labor and Industry, which oversees MOSH, gave ambiguous answers. While smoking would be banned in some homes that served as workplaces, the state doesn't expect to bother with home inspections, Mr. Koellein said.

The state's proposal bans smoking in all workplaces with at least one employee. There are three exceptions: vehicles used for work that are occupied by only one person, tobacconist shops and laboratories or other places engaged in tobacco research.

L Also, cruise ships would be exempt whenever they leave port.

Del. John A. Hurson, co-chairman of the committee, said he expects the committee to ask the state for amendments.

But the Montgomery County Democrat added that the legislature's request for amendments might not matter, because Gov. William Donald Schaefer can put into effect any regulations he likes as soon as the middle of next month.

And the dispute won't end there, Mr. Hurson said. Tobacco industry officials have already said they will take any such ban to court.

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