Robey readies new smoking ban

All Howard bars and restaurants to be included in proposed law

October 26, 2005|By LARRY CARSON | LARRY CARSON,SUN REPORTER

A long-awaited bill that would ban smoking in all Howard County bars and restaurants will be submitted to the County Council this week, said County Executive James N. Robey, who has been working on the measure for months.

The bill, which if approved would not take effect until 2008, also would ban smoking within 15 feet of any main public building entrance, at public athletic and entertainment events and in or near areas of private homes used for business or day care. Civil penalties would be as high as $500 for businesses.

Robey's proposal is broader than Montgomery County's two-year old law, which covers only restaurants and bars. Elsewhere in the state, Talbot County has a similar ban, and bills are under consideration in Prince George's County and in Baltimore City. Nationally, nine states and 190 local governments have smoking bans.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in Wednesday's Howard edition of The Sun incorrectly reported one aspect of a bill that would ban smoking in all Howard County bars and restaurants. If the bill is adopted, establishments that now have smoking in separately ventilated areas would lose that exemption on Jan. 1, 2008. The rest of the bill's provisions would take effect 61 days after it is signed into law. An incorrect time for tomorrow's matinee performance of The Wizard of Oz at River Hill High School was published in Wednesday's Howard edition. The matinee is at 2 p.m. The Sun regrets the errors.

Kari Appler, director of the Smoke Free Maryland Coalition, is hopeful the Maryland General Assembly will enact a statewide ban this winter.

"We think there's an excellent chance. We're getting closer and closer. There's broad public support across every demographic," she said.

Robey's bill, which excludes some private clubs and hotel rooms, is scheduled for formal introduction at the council's next legislative session Nov. 7, and a vote in December.

But unlike in Prince George's County, where a similar bill was introduced last week with eight of the nine council members as sponsors, Robey has no guarantee he will get the required majority of three Howard County Council votes for passage. Still, he said he's determined to push the issue.

"There's no guarantee there won't be three votes either. I believe strongly in the bill I'm sending down there," he said.

"I'm more convinced than ever this is the right thing to do," as a public health issue, Robey said. "It's something that's coming. It's going to be statewide."

The two-year delay in the bill's effective date is a compromise designed to mollify business owners who had asked for a five-year grace period, Robey said, though the restaurant industry has argued a complete ban will hurt business.

Since 1996, when current restrictions took effect, Howard law has required physically separate smoking and nonsmoking areas in restaurants, forcing sometimes expensive renovations, though a legal ruling has allowed smoking in bars.

Anti-smoking activists say that the separation system has not worked, that the number of businesses allowing smoking has grown and that employees' health is at risk from second-hand smoke.

"This is a health issue first and foremost. We should be worried about all those people being exposed and getting sick every single day," said Glenn E. Schneider, legislative chairman of Smoke Free Howard County Tobacco Coalition.

He called the two-year delay "troubling and unnecessarily long."

Although a full ban could help already smoke-free places such as Clyde's, a restaurant and bar on Columbia's popular lakefront, Claude Anderson, corporate operations manager of the 11-restaurant chain, opposes smoking bans.

"Obviously I'm not going to be affected by it, but I think there's real bad information that these smoking bans do no harm [to business]," he said. "I have two bartenders who have lost jobs. I have others whose income was affected."

Clyde's in Columbia has never recovered bar business lost in 1996, he said. The two-year delay Robey is proposing would not help, he argued.

Joe Barbera, president of the Howard County Restaurant Owners Association, said his group supports current Howard law.

"We do not support a countywide smoking ban. It hurts a lot of the restaurants and bars that have already implemented the separate facilities," he said.

All of these opinions are at work on the five council members.

West Columbia Democrat Ken Ulman said he is "thrilled" about Robey's decision to introduce a bill and has asked to co-sponsor it, though he may suggest amendments, and Chairman Guy Guzzone, a North Laurel-Savage Democrat also supports the concept, he said.

But Councilman David A. Rakes, an east Columbia Democrat who made a campaign pledge in August 2002 to support a smoking ban, now is having second thoughts.

"I'm trying to figure out the degree of the problem," Rakes said Monday, adding that he has been talking to constituents.

Rakes refused to discuss his campaign promise.

"I have no response to that," he said when asked about the pledge.

Western county Republican Charles C. Feaga is a strong opponent, and though Councilman Christopher H. Merdon, an Ellicott City Republican running for county executive, has not committed himself publicly, most observers expect him to oppose Robey's bill.

"I think Chris will side with us," Barbera said.

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