Smoke rings and loopholes Intent of new anti-smoking remains clear despite gap found in legislation.

June 06, 1996

THERE'S NO NEED to rush to retool a new anti-smoking law in Howard County that apparently has a flaw that would allow most bars to remain as smoky as they wish. Supporters wanted a law that would require a bar owner to designate part of his establishment for smokers and a separate part for people who want to protect themselves from the effects of burning tobacco. However, since the law does not include specifications on the size of a nonsmoking area, it could be interpreted as allowing bar owners to reserve as little space as possible for nonsmokers.

Councilman C. Vernon Gray, who sponsored the anti-smoking bill three years ago, isn't ready to accept the opinion of the county Office of Law that the statute has a loophole. But Mr.

Gray didn't go so far as to commit to drafting new legislation if the lawyers are right. That's good. Mr. Gray and other supporters of the anti-smoking law should wait and see what will be the impact of this new interpretation.

After all, even an opponent of the law, Stan Nasiatka, who manages The Three Nines Tavern on Route 1 in Jessup, says he will still probably designate up to a third of his bar as nonsmoking. Bar owners, like restaurant owners, may find that providing a comfortable environment for people who don't want to inhale nicotine actually attracts customers.

Howard County's anti-smoking law, passed amid much contention in 1993, affects 39 bars and 90 restaurants licensed to sell liquor. The law bans smoking in all public areas except overnight truck stops, tobacco shops and bars. Restaurants that have bars are allowed to permit smoking only inside an enclosed bar area with a separate ventilation system. Smoking is totally prohibited in all other restaurants.

Heavy criticism had earlier prompted county officials to agree not to enforce violations until after Jan. 1, 1997, although the ordinance officially goes into effect next month.

County Executive Charles I. Ecker is pleased with the new interpretation of the anti-smoking law pertaining to bars. Mr. Ecker says he doesn't believe tavern owners will ignore the spirit of the law and only designate a small corner of a room for nonsmokers. The County Council should wait and see what happens. It could be that the law, as written, serves its desired purpose. If not, it can be changed.

Pub Date: 6/06/96

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