Smoking compromise approved

March 28, 1995|By Marina Sarris | Marina Sarris,Sun Staff Writer

The governor and state legislature agreed yesterday to exempt most of the hospitality industry from Maryland's landmark workplace smoking ban.

The compromise allows unrestricted smoking in bars, taverns and private clubs that serve alcohol, such as country clubs and halls for veterans groups.

Patrons can light up in restaurants and in most bowling alleys, pool halls, racetracks and indoor sports arenas -- but only if those businesses provide separate, enclosed smoking rooms.

And hotels can set aside 40 percent of their rooms for smokers.

Some anti-smoking activists expressed disappointment that Gov. Parris N. Glendening agreed to so many exceptions to the ban after initially taking a hard-line stance against most of them.

"We're very pleased that he tried his best. We're a little disappointed in the final outcome," said Eric Gally, president of Smoke Free Maryland, an anti-smoking coalition.

But Mr. Glendening urged Marylanders to look at the broader picture. They still have one of the toughest smoking bans in the country, he noted, and it covers the vast majority of workplaces. "When Maryland wakes up [today], our state will be practically smoke free," he said.

The ban, which took effect yesterday afternoon, forbids smoking in offices, factories, stores, schools and government buildings. It allows workers to smoke in specially ventilated, enclosed lounges if their employers choose to install such rooms.

The measure has attracted national attention because it is one of the first to be adopted under state occupational safety and health regulations, rather than legislation.

The General Assembly passed the compromise by overwhelming margins yesterday, and the governor signed it into law last night. The exemptions are expected to take effect within seven days, said Bonnie A. Kirkland, chief lobbyist for Mr. Glendening.

She said the governor and legislative leaders had found a way to sidestep a legal obstacle that could have prevented the exemptions from taking effect until June 1.

In addition to the law signed yesterday -- which may not qualify as "emergency" legislation -- another bill containing the exemptions is expected to be approved Monday, Ms. Kirkland said. She said that measure will take effect immediately.

With the compromise in place yesterday, the governor backed off his earlier pledge to support a drive to put the exemptions to a voter referendum in 1996.

But Mr. Gally of Smoke Free Maryland said a referendum may be unavoidable. "There are several groups that are going to go ahead and get the signatures for a referendum," he said.

Al Ertel, chairman of the statewide Coalition for Smoke Free Workplaces, said the compromise conflicts with the ban's original goal -- to protect workers from the health hazards of secondhand smoke.

Restaurant workers and bartenders are completely unprotected, even though "these are the people who are subject to the highest exposure and highest risk of all," he said.

"It's a disappointing development, particularly compared to what has happened in California, Vermont and Utah, where they have banned smoking in restaurants and many places that serve alcohol," Mr. Ertel said.

Although several anti-smoking activists were unhappy, the compromise bill had its share of high-profile supporters, including the Tobacco Institute, the Maryland Tourism Council, and the Maryland Hotel and Motel Association.

Restaurant owners were not sure what to make of the compromise. "It's a mixed bag for our industry," said Thomas B. Stone Jr., lobbyist for the Restaurant Association of Maryland.

"We estimate that all but the smallest restaurants -- those with 25 tables or less -- could possibly have the capacity to put in a smoking room," he said. Small restaurants make up 10 percent of the association's 2,300 members.

Restaurants that have bars fare better than those that don't. They can set aside the bar and part of the surrounding area for smoking without having to wall it off.

The compromise averted a political showdown between the Democratic governor and the Democratic-controlled Assembly. Last week, the legislature approved a different version of the exemptions bill, and the governor had vowed to veto it.

SMOKING COMPROMISE

Here are details of the compromise approved yesterday to make exemptions to Maryland's ban on workplace smoking:

* TAVERNS: Smoking can be allowed in all sections of taverns. A tavern is defined as any business in which 50 percent of the gross income is derived from liquor sales.

* HOTELS, MOTELS: Smoking will be allowed in rooms, but managers can designate any number of rooms as nonsmoking. Smoking will be banned elsewhere in hotels and motels, except in bars and restaurants under separate rules that apply to both.

* PRIVATE CLUBS: Clubs such as the American Legion and the Elks that have liquor licenses can allow smoking for private functions. For events in which the public is invited, at least 60 percent of the club must be nonsmoking.

* RESTAURANTS: Those that do not have bar areas can allow smoking in up to 40 percent of the establishment, but it must be confined to separate, enclosed smoking areas. Restaurants with bars can allow smoking at the bar and in adjacent areas where food is sold, as long as no more than 40 percent of the establishment is designated for smoking.

* OTHER BUSINESSES WITH LIQUOR LICENSES: Bowling alleys, sports arenas, pool halls and other businesses with liquor licenses can allow smoking, but it must be confined to separate, enclosed areas where liquor is served.

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