Anne Arundel councilman suggests tighter curbs on smoking in public places

Reilly calls for formation of group to study matter

December 16, 2003|By Ryan Davis | Ryan Davis,SUN STAFF

Anne Arundel County, where farmers have grown tobacco for more than 300 years, could become the latest area to tighten its anti-smoking laws or ban smoking in public places such as restaurants and bars.

County Councilman Edward R. Reilly raised the idea of a ban at yesterday's County Council meeting, and said he hopes the county Health Department will create a group to study possible legislation.

"We have to find out if there's a general consensus of the people encouraging this," said Reilly, who represents the agriculture-driven southern part of the county. "Personally, as a nonsmoker, I've always had a difficult time coming home from social events smelling like smoke."

Anne Arundel falls under the state law that limits smoking in workplaces, bars, restaurants and other public places to designated areas.

Reilly's comments at last night's meeting and to The Sun mark some of the most serious talk Anne Arundel officials have heard on stricter anti-smoking laws. The Crofton Republican said it's a personal comfort and health issue. Anne Arundel has one of the state's highest cancer rates, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Frances Phillips, the county's health officer, told the County Council that Anne Arundel could make progress.

"We'd certainly be committed and delighted to work with you ... to see what could be done in this county," Phillips said.

The County Council meeting was running behind schedule when Reilly made his comments. No other council member added to the discussion.

County Executive Janet S. Owens, the daughter of a tobacco farmer and a smoker herself, declined to comment yesterday on the idea.

Montgomery County has the strictest anti-smoking law in the state. It took effect in October and bans smoking in restaurants and bars, but not in outdoor dining areas or private clubs.

In Howard County restaurants, smoking is allowed only in a separate, enclosed bar. Baltimore City is preparing for hearings on a smoking ban, following a resolution introduced last month by Councilwoman Helen L. Holton.

California, Delaware, New York City and other areas around the country have pushed smoking out of restaurants and bars.

In nearly every place that has imposed a ban, some of the strongest arguments against the new law came from restaurant owners who said bans would hurt their business.

Reilly said he would expect a study group to examine that issue, but he added, "I don't think New York City has closed down."

Maryland has bought out tobacco farmers across the state, paying them not to grow the cash crop and leaving few tobacco farmers in Anne Arundel. Reilly and his legislative assistant, Joyce Maloney, said the county's connection with tobacco, which dates back to the 1600s, should not be a factor.

"It's not a healthy part of our history," Maloney said.

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