Smoke, Smokier, Smokiest

September 24, 1994

It comes as no surprise that Republican gubernatorial candidate Ellen Sauerbrey would rescind the Schaefer administration's toughest-in-the-nation ban on smoking in the workplace. As a consistent conservative, she says this is government regulation "run amok" and insists such a ban should be considered only if it passes legislative muster.

But it does raise eyebrows when her Democratic foe, Parris Glendening, also puts up roadblocks against a proposal Attorney General Joseph Curran is fighting in court to uphold. But consistency is not Mr. Glendening's hallmark; compromise is.

His compromise this time is that he wants another year-long review so that the ban would apply only to restaurants -- get this -- above a certain size. So let's say the limit is 300 and you own a restaurant with 303 seats. You then eliminate one table for four. Does that let you escape? Also, as to Mr. Glendening's worry that employers would be vulnerable to unreasonable suits, Mr. Curran says it ain't so, as long as genuine steps are taken to comply with the regulation.

What accounts for Mr. Glendening's waffle? A lobbyist-lawyer for a restaurant association is on his finance committee, or at least attends its meetings. The candidate also is eager for contributions from vending machine distributors, tavern owners, hotel operators, retailers and others who fear a smoking ban would hurt business. Mrs. Sauerbrey no doubt has her hand out to the same sources, but for her there is no ideological embarrassment.

Of the two contenders, it is Mr. Glendening who calls himself an environmentalist and picks liberal Kathleen Kennedy Townsend as his would-be lieutenant governor. Yet his tobacco gambit is clearly designed to send a message that he is a centrist, pro-business "new" Democrat.

With the opposition of both gubernatorial hopefuls to the Schaefer smoking ban, the proposal is effectively "deep sixed," as a local American Cancer Society official puts it. Will the Maryland Court of Appeals now rule on a Talbot County judge's decision suspending the regulation pending further hearings? Or will those against second-hand smoke in restaurants, hotels, factories, stores and other public places have to pin their hopes on pending federal regulations now the subject of an exhaustive three-month hearing?

Assuming Mr. Glendening (if elected) would go ahead with a less ambitious smoking ban, he could take the same regulation route that Gov. William Donald Schaefer adopted. To that extent, his election would offer more chance of state action than would Mrs. Sauerbrey's legislative bent. Given the power of the tobacco lobby in the General Assembly, there is zero chance a legislative ban would pass even in the improbable case that a Governor Sauerbrey would propose one. So the choice on this issue, and many others in this election, is a mushy maybe or a negative no.

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