That No-Smoking Ban

March 29, 1995

Maryland now has one of the toughest workplace smoking bans in the nation. It's got loopholes, though -- big loopholes. But in the world of politics and lawmaking, there's no such thing as a perfect bill. Compromises must be made. To take an unyielding stand can lead to crushing defeat.

Such is the case with the no-smoking bill signed into law Monday night by Gov. Parris N. Glendening. Sure, the governor settled for far less than he initially sought. But had he refused to yield he would have been run over by a fast-charging legislative locomotive -- stoked by the powerful tobacco lobby -- determined to carve out even bigger exemptions in the no-smoking ban.

In the end, Mr. Glendening rightly could claim victory. Smoking is now barred in virtually all offices, factories and other indoor workplaces with two key exceptions -- bars and restaurants. And local governments still have the right to enact tougher restrictions. In fact, Talbot County already has a law on the books that goes farther than the new state statute.

The tourist industry made a persuasive pitch to legislators and to the governor that they would be unfairly harmed by an all-inclusive ban. Restaurants and bars made a far less compelling case. The compromise worked out does give smokers some respite: They can puff away in bars, in enclosed sections of eateries and separated enclosures of sports arenas, bowling alleys, etc. Yet this approach makes taverns inhospitable places for non-smokers worried about the health risk of inhaled tobacco fumes. It also puts service workers in smoking areas at risk.

Many big companies in Maryland already have a no-smoking policy. For some businesses, though, coping with a disgruntled group of on-the-job smokers could be a vexing problem. Most people will adjust, though. Outdoor smoke breaks will become more common. Company-backed smoking-cessation courses could proliferate. And thousands of young adults may never become addicted to tobacco now that it is so difficult to light up while at work or while dining.

The danger of second-hand smoke is a proven scientific fact. Given Maryland's high cancer rate, something had to be done to minimize the risk. Mr. Glendening inherited a sweeping workplace smoking ban from the Schaefer administration, a ban that legislators were determined to eviscerate. The governor managed to salvage most of that ban, however. It was a pragmatic compromise that takes Maryland another big step down the road toward a smoke-free environment.

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