Powerful tobacco lobbyist Bruce Bereano -- who was convicted in 1994 of mail fraud but is best remembered in Howard County for suing the County Council that year for $1.5 million over cigarette issues -- has joined the battle over the county's strict new anti-smoking law.
Neither the council nor County Executive Charles I. Ecker has shown any interest in reviving the bruising debate, but the hiring of Bereano, who is appealing his convictions, is evidence that some restaurant owners still hope to overturn a law they despise.
Bereano -- who is working for Clyde's of Columbia, a restaurant facing up to $100,000 in renovations required by the law, and the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington -- declined to comment, saying, "I'm not going to discuss the matter in the newspaper."
The restaurant group has few Howard County members but worries that the law's effects might spill over into other counties.
"We don't recognize any such thing as smokers' rights," said William D. Lecos, president of the restaurant association. "What we do recognize is the rights of restaurant owners to accommodate the needs of their customers."
The Howard County smoking law, which went into effect July 1, outlaws smoking in most restaurants.
Only restaurants that serve liquor may allow smoking, and only in separately ventilated smoking areas.
About a dozen restaurants that are building such areas have until the end of the year to finish construction.
Bars are virtually exempt from the law because of a sympathetic interpretation by the county of an error in drafting the law that removed size restrictions on the nonsmoking sections of bars. But Howard County's anti-smoking law is still the strictest in Maryland and one of the strictest on the East Coast.
When it passed in 1993, Ecker vetoed the law twice, arguing that it was unfair because it has different rules for bars, restaurants and restaurants with bars. Twice the council overruled his veto.
Pub Date: 10/02/96