Judge extends delay of Md. smoking ban

August 13, 1994|By Marina Sarris | Marina Sarris,Sun Staff Writer

EASTON -- Tobacco companies won another round last night in their fight against Maryland's groundbreaking ban on workplace smoking.

A Talbot County judge said he will continue to block the proposed ban until he can hold a full hearing on its legality.

That hearing has not been scheduled, and lawyers for both sides predicted it could be months away.

Lawyers for the state notified the judge immediately that they plan to appeal his decision to the Court of Special Appeals Monday.

"We're very disappointed. We disagree very strongly with the judge's decision," said Assistant Attorney General Evelyn Cannon.

In announcing his decision after 9 p.m., Circuit Judge William S. Horne said he was persuaded that the tobacco companies and local businesses who brought the suit would suffer "real hardship" if the ban took effect right away.

As adopted by state regulators, the proposal forbids smoking in almost all indoor workplaces, including restaurants, bars and hotels. Employers would be allowed to install separately ventilated smoking lounges if they wished.

The proposal seeks to protect workers from the health risks of breathing second-hand smoke, which has been linked to cancer and heart disease in nonsmokers.

The Maryland case is being closely watched by pro- and anti-smoking forces, as the ban is the toughest of its kind in the nation. It also is the first adopted under occupational safety and health rules to be heard in court.

The ban was supposed to take effect Aug. 1, but Judge Horne blocked it until he could hear testimony on it Thursday and yesterday.

Judge Horne said he considered the likelihood of the tobacco companies eventually overturning the ban in his decision last night. While he could not gauge their chances of success, he said, tobacco and business groups did raise several arguments that merit further examination.

The hearing pitted their financial fears against the state's concerns about employee health.

Instead of calling witnesses, the state yesterday produced the health studies and testimony that its regulators relied upon in deciding to ban smoking in workplaces.

"Passive smoking kills," said Ms. Cannon, the lead lawyer for the state, in an emotional closing argument. "It kills workers. It kills waiters. . . . You don't have to die to make a living in Maryland."

She also downplayed the businesses' concerns of losing money, xTC saying they were based on fear and speculation rather than evidence.

Studies of California cities that have banned smoking in restaurants have shown no economic harm to those businesses, she said.

The ban's opponents, however, pointed to studies they paid for that showed the ban would hurt tobacco sales in Maryland.

The tobacco and business group paid National Economic Research Associates in Cambridge, Mass., $250 an hour to analyze the ban's projected effect on smoking and sales.

Economist Albert L. Nichols testified that smoking could drop by 5, percent to 30 percent, causing net cigarette sales to fall by $27 million to $162 million annually.

If that happened, he said, the state would lose from $9 million to $54 million in tax revenues.

Under cross-examination, however, Dr. Nichols said he did not consider the ban's potential savings to the taxpayers. The state contends the taxpayers will save millions spent on treating smoking-related illnesses among the poor.

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