Smoke Gets in Their Eyes

March 10, 1995

It's time state legislators in Annapolis face the cold, hard facts. Cigarette smoking is a definite health hazard. Even second-hand smoke can be deadly: It is estimated that it will kill 1,000 Marylanders this year. A crackdown on public smoking is essential.

Too many legislators have fallen under the spell of the powerful tobacco industry and their potent lobbyists. These lawmakers like getting smoke blown in their eyes. With unseemly haste, they have jumped on an emotional bandwagon to "liberate" Maryland from a regulatory ban on workplace smoking due to begin March 27. Their aim: Trample efforts to rein-in smoking.

What is needed is an old-fashioned compromise. The regulation banning workplace smoking was a bit of overkill promulgated by former Gov. William Donald Schaefer's licensing secretary, William Fogle. It is unrealistic in its unyielding provisions.

But the legislature's antidote is just as unrealistic. It gives too much leeway for certain businesses to avoid compliance.

Caught in the middle is Gov. Parris Glendening. He didn't write the Schaefer-era regulation, but he understands that no responsible elected official can ignore the clear links between smoking and serious health problems. Nor can he ignore the danger of second-hand smoke for hundreds of thousands of innocent Maryland workers.

Mr. Glendening is supporting the workplace ban on smoking. But he is willing to bend the regulation to accommodate some of the concerns of restaurants, bars, hotels and the tourist industry. What he needs is cooperation from leaders of the General Assembly -- many of whom are smokers and are happy to see their colleagues run wild on this issue.

Such irresponsible activity demeans the General Assembly and undermines public confidence in the legislature. House Speaker Casper Taylor and Senate President Mike Miller have an obligation to find a way around this stand-off. Eliminating smoking in most places of work is a sensible health-care precaution. But those addicted to tobacco deserve some consideration. The negative impact on certain businesses has to be addressed, too.

The best way to do this is for legislative leaders to meet the governor halfway. It would be a shame if, as a result of this unwise legislative initiative, Mr. Taylor and Mr. Miller come to be regarded as shills for the tobacco industry.

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