Smoking ban will burn them, hotel, eatery owners testify

August 12, 1994|By Marina Sarris | Marina Sarris,Sun Staff Writer

EASTON -- The owners of several local restaurants and hotels told a judge yesterday that they would lose customers and in some cases face financial ruin if he allowed Maryland to ban smoking in workplaces.

"As far as I'm concerned, it would close me," said Faye Spence, owner of Faye's Place, a 13-table luncheonette in an Easton mall.

Ms. Spence and other businesses want a Talbot County circuit judge to continue to block the state's proposed workplace smoking ban until its legality is settled -- a process that could take months.

The businesses, joined by five out-of-state tobacco manufacturers, hope to overturn the ban, the strictest in the nation.

As adopted by state regulators, the proposal would forbid smoking in almost all indoor workplaces in Maryland, including restaurants, bars and hotels, in an effort to protect employees from second-hand smoke. Employers could install separately ventilated smoking lounges if they wished.

The ban, which state regulators sought to impose Aug. 1, already has been stalled until the conclusion of the two-day hearing here.

The state hopes to persuade Judge William S. Horne that the ban should take effect now. Judge Horne has until Monday to decide.

Government lawyers tried to cast doubt yesterday on the contention that a smoking ban would harm businesses.

Assistant Attorney General Evelyn Cannon, for example, asked Ms. Spence if she had any economic studies on the ban's effect on her business. Ms. Spence said she did not.

Most of the business managers and owners who testified yesterday said they were basing their predictions of financial harm on informal customer surveys and conversations.

Ronald Fox, an owner of the Washington Street Pub in Easton, said he did not believe he could enforce the ban. "I can't strip-search all my customers when they come in to see if they have cigarettes on them," he said.

Robert Horner, who owns the H&G Restaurant in Easton with his wife, said he feared being fined by the state if one of his customers lit a cigarette.

"If I get a $7,000 fine, the price of eggs is going to go through the roof," he said, referring to one of his menu items.

Ms. Cannon, however, said that business owners would not be fined if they made a good faith effort to ban smoking.

Most of the testimony during the day-long hearing concerned the economic effect of the proposed ban. The judge, however, is supposed to consider several other factors in making his decision. They include the public interest and the likelihood of the tobacco and business groups eventually overturning the regulation.

Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. spoke about the public interest in the state's opening remarks. He said the ban would protect "working men and women" from breathing a substance -- second-hand smoke -- that could give them heart and lung problems.

A federal study has linked second-hand smoke to cancer and heart disease in nonsmokers.

"Smoking causes death. That's undeniable. That's proven," Mr. Curran said. He also said smoke-free workplaces will appeal to employees and customers. "People welcome the opportunity to go somewhere where they don't run the risk of heart disease and emphysema," he said.

The hearing will continue today. As of yesterday afternoon, the state had no plans to call its own witnesses.

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