On-job smokers brace for jitters

March 26, 1995|By Frank D. Roylance and Kevin L. McQuaid | Frank D. Roylance and Kevin L. McQuaid,Sun Staff Writers

Maryland workers who smoke had better check the weather forecast, because by Tuesday morning thousands will be stepping outdoors to light up.

Nonsmokers, meanwhile, can expect cleaner air in their workplaces. But watch out for crankiness among nicotine-deprived colleagues. One of the nation's more restrictive bans on smoking at work takes effect at the close of the business day tomorrow -- meaning that most smokers will feel the pinch when they report for work Tuesday.

The actual trigger for the ban is an order to implement it from Maryland's highest court. That directive is expected late tomorrow afternoon. By that time, Gov. Parris N. Glendening and legislative leaders hope to finish a compromise plan exempting bars, hotels and some restaurants. But there is no reprieve for factories, business offices, shops and even company vehicles occupied by two or more people.

The smoking light will be snuffed, except in the rare instances where companies provide designated rooms ventilated to the outside and not used by nonsmoking workers for other purposes.

Moreover, beleaguered puffers will be shooed outside from the cafeterias, restrooms, hallways and stairwells where many had found refuge in the wake of prior smoking bans imposed by company or local-government edict.

"There's going to be a period when we're all a little bit crabby," said attorney Arnold M. Weiner, between puffs of a Macanudo cigar at his office downtown.

He expects the ban to reduce his firm's productivity, at least initially. Lawyers and clients who smoke will have to ride the elevator 21 floors to the street to light up. "I guess we'll be holding meetings out on the sidewalk," he said.

Clearer days

For nonsmoking workers, it will be the dawn of a clearer day no matter what the weather outside. When they do encounter indoor smoking, they can file complaints with the Maryland Division of Labor and Industry. The agency will keep their names confidential if requested.

The state's ban was imposed by regulatory action as a workplace health and safety measure. Violations carry fines of up to $7,000 -- against employers, not smokers. State officials, however, will impose no fines, and will promote educational efforts, for the first six months.

There also will be no "smoke police." If everyone in an office, shop or company vehicle should happen to agree to smoke, the state might not find out until someone complained, said Carolyn West, regulations coordinator for the division.

Smoking in city patrol cars is "a tension reliever, and God knows we do need to relieve stress or tension any way we can," said Officer Gary McLhinney, president of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3 in Baltimore City. There and elsewhere, patrol cars carrying two officers must be smoke-free.

"I guess we'll have to abide by the law the way it's written," he said. But as a practical matter, officers are unlikely to file complaints against one another.

Smoking lounge

At least one business is preparing to capitalize on the ban. Fader's tobacco shop on East Baltimore Street plans to add a smoking lounge, complete with couches, chairs and possibly telephones, said company President Bill Fader. Tobacconists are exempt from the regulations.

"People who smoke already come here to chat, relax and do business," Mr. Fader said. "This way, we'll continue to accommodate them."

Others, however, were facing the deadline with less cheer.

At General Motors Corp.'s Broening Highway plant, smoking on the assembly line will end, and smokers will have to go outside on breaks. GM last week set up counseling sessions to help them cope.

At the Bata Shoe Co. Inc., a work-shoe manufacturer in Belcamp, human resources manager Barbara Higgins said 30 percent to 35 percent of her company's 185 employees are smokers. Their former refuges -- restrooms and a canteen -- will become smoke-free, leaving outdoors as the only acceptable smoking area.

Ed Zynel, a Bata manager and a smoker, said he expects no adverse effect on the plant's production of roughly 6,000 pairs of boots a day. But he is not looking forward to next winter.

'Where are our rights?'

"It's not fair at all," said Donna Pangburn, a Bata inspector who doesn't light up at home to protect her children from cigarette smoke, but goes through an entire pack on her 12-hour work shift.

"The nonsmokers here aren't even complaining," she said. "Where are our rights?"

Had the new smoking regulations been extended to all bars, restaurants, hotels and convention centers, Maryland would rank with California and Utah as one of the toughest anti-smoking states in the nation. But lobbyists for the "hospitality" industry have worked feverishly in recent weeks to exempt their clients, saying the ban would drive away tourists and conventioneers.

Many Marylanders will see little, if any, change.

Federal property exempt

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