Glendening to let ban on smoking take effect

March 02, 1995|By Marina Sarris | Marina Sarris,Sun Staff Writer

Gov. Parris N. Glendening has decided that he will allow Maryland's stringent new ban on workplace smoking to take effect in three and a half weeks, sources said yesterday.

The regulation, one of the toughest of its kind in the nation, forbids smoking in almost all public and private indoor workplaces, including restaurants, bars and hotels.

It allows smoking in specially ventilated lounges, but opponents say such rooms will be costly and take weeks to install. That could leave workers running outside for cigarette breaks in the meantime.

Some opponents already are preparing legislative assaults on the ban, though it is unlikely they could pass such a measure by the end of the month. Moreover, the governor, through his veto power, could undo their efforts.

Mr. Glendening is expected to announce his decision about the ban at a news conference today.

Although he had talked about exempting small taverns from the measure, he has decided not to modify the anti-smoking regulation, sources said.

The state's highest court, the Court of Appeals, ruled Friday that the regulation would take effect on March 27 unless the governor decided otherwise. A coalition of opponents, including the nation's major tobacco companies, planned to lobby the governor to delay the ban's implementation, but they never got the chance.

"I'm really astonished by today's news because the indication we had was that he was going to study it for 30 days," said George A. Nilson, an attorney for tobacco companies.

The governor's decision may not be popular with the Maryland General Assembly either. Some legislators are talking about introducing bills to delay the ban's implementation and to exempt bars, hotels and restaurants.

"I think the majority of the Senate believes the regulations put in ,, place are extreme in nature and go way too far in trying to regulate people's lives," said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., a Prince George's County Democrat.

He said the ban would hurt his home county because people would drive across the state border to restaurants and bars in Virginia and Washington, where smoking is allowed.

Legislators are considering two approaches, Mr. Miller said. The first would delay the ban's implementation until state lawmakers could hold public hearings and vote on the issue. The second would exempt bars, taverns and restaurants that have liquor licenses and have designated smoking areas, he said.

House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., a former tavern owner from Western Maryland, said some legislators wish to exempt hotels as well.

"I don't smoke, but if I want to go into a bar and sit with friends who smoke, that's my choice," said Del. D. Bruce Poole, a Democrat from Washington County. "The effects of second-hand smoke are undeniable, but there just has to come a point when government says the decision is not its to make."

The regulation seeks primarily to protect employees from being exposed to secondhand smoke, which has been linked to cancer, heart attacks and lung ailments in nonsmokers.

The ban does not apply to outdoor workplaces, tobacco shops, labs conducting research on smoking and work vehicles occupied by one employee.

According to its drafters, the ban also does not apply to sleeping rooms in hotels unless a hotel employee is present.

Victor L. Crawford, a former tobacco lobbyist turned tobacco foe, met with Governor Glendening Tuesday to urge him to come down on the side of protecting employee health.

Mr. Crawford, a former state senator, used to smoke heavily until he was diagnosed with cancer of the larynx in 1991. He attracted media attention in June when he came to Annapolis to plead for the smoking ban and disclose his cancer.

It's not clear whether the Glendening administration will seek to enforce the ban aggressively right away.

The regulation was developed by the previous administration of Gov. William Donald Schaefer, and Schaefer officials had said they would seek at first to educate violators rather than punish them.

And William A. Fogle Jr., the licensing and regulation secretary under Mr. Schaefer, had promised to provide free consultation services to businesses that wanted to know how to comply or whether their smoking lounges met the ventilation requirements.

Mr. Glendening has replaced Mr. Fogle with Frank W. Stegman. Calls to the agency went unanswered yesterday, and it could not be learned if the new administration plans to take the same approach.

Employers with persistent or serious violations could be fined as much as $7,000 for each infraction.

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