Strict smoking ban's economic effects debated

March 09, 1995|By Marina Sarris | Marina Sarris,Sun Staff Writer Sun staff writer John A. Morris contributed to this article.

Tourists will shun Maryland -- and bars, restaurants and hotels will lose money -- if the state's landmark workplace smoking ban takes effect as written, several business managers told state legislators yesterday.

The managers asked the House Environmental Matters Committee to pass a bill exempting "the hospitality industry" from the ban, which is scheduled to begin March 27.

But health advocates and government officials argued that the anti-smoking regulation should remain unchanged because people's health is at stake. The rule will protect employees in virtually every industry from the dangers of second-hand smoke, which has been linked to cancer, heart attacks and lung ailments in nonsmokers, they said.

Unless changed by the legislature, the ban will forbid smoking by customers and employees in restaurants, bars, hotels, offices, factories and almost all other indoor workplaces. Smoking would be allowed only in tobacco shops, sealed employee lounges with separate ventilation systems and work vehicles occupied by one person.

Almost 200 people packed the Annapolis hearing on House Bill 1368, which would amend the ban to exempt bars, hotels and motels, as well as convention centers, racetracks, restaurants and clubs with alcoholic beverage licenses. Those businesses would be required to set up separate smoking and nonsmoking areas, as many already do.

Thomas C. Osina with the Virginia Propane Gas Association testified that his group will no longer consider Maryland as a site for its conventions if the exemptions bill doesn't pass. A three-day conference his group scheduled in Annapolis is in jeopardy because 25 percent of the attendees will boycott it if they cannot smoke, he said.

Tourists from Europe, "the largest smoking place in the world," will avoid Maryland if the ban isn't changed, said the bill's chief sponsor, Del. John S. Arnick, a Baltimore County Democrat.

Others objected to the government interference. "We don't think government should be micromanaging our business to this extent," said James C. Simpson III, president of the National Licensed Beverage Association.

A co-sponsor of the bill, Del. George W. Owings III, suggested that smoking helps the economy by keeping health care workers employed. If smoking were stopped and cancer were eradicated, "how many health care workers would lose their jobs?" said Mr. Owings, a Democrat of Calvert and Anne Arundel counties.

The state's top health official, however, said medical workers would be delighted if cancer were cured. Health Secretary Martin P. Wasserman, a physician, also urged the committee to leave the ban unchanged so it could protect workers in the hospitality industry.

Secondhand smoke kills 1,000 Marylanders a year, Dr. Wasserman said. "The ban protects the innocents in the workplace," he said.

Keith Burkhart of Baltimore said he was harmed by other people's smoking. "I am a former waiter who left that occupation because of health problems from exposure to smoking," he testified.

"When I worked at restaurants in the Baltimore area, I used to leave work with a sore throat and burning eyes. . . . I did not think it was worth the risk to my health," he said.

Gayle Ehrenfried of Mitchellville said her daughter-in-law also was forced to chose between "her health and her job" as a waitress. The younger woman suffered asthma attacks at work. She quit her job when she became pregnant and feared that secondhand smoke would harm her fetus, Ms. Ehrenfried said.

Margie Weaver of Somerset County also opposed the bill. "I'm here to represent 'Jane Doe nonsmoker,' " she said. Her family now must travel long distances to find a restaurant on the Eastern Shore with nonsmoking areas, she said. "We're waiting to celebrate on March 27. We know we'll eat out and spend a lot more in the economy."

Most citizens agree with the ban, said Eric Gally, representing the American Cancer Society and Smoke Free Maryland, an anti-smoking group. "The people of Maryland don't want workers to get sick, they don't want to pay their Medicaid costs, and they don't want to be exposed [to secondhand smoke] themselves," he said.

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