Howard hearing debates smoking

Baltimore & Region


A proposal to ban smoking in all Howard County bars and restaurants appears doomed for lack of one County Council vote, but advocates on both sides of the issue crowded a council hearing last night to argue their points.

Sixty people signed up to speak.

"Any reputable scientist will tell you that tobacco kills more Americans, Marylanders and Howard County residents than any other cause," said Dr. Penny Borenstein, the county's health officer. The current system of separate, ventilated smoking areas has "proven ineffective," she added.

"You can only wrestle with your conscience for so long," said the bill's sponsor, County Executive James N. Robey, explaining why he submitted it after being in office for seven years.

Councilman Charles C. Feaga, a western county Republican, said, "I look at it as the freedom of an individual," to choose whether a restaurant should allow smoking.

Councilman David A. Rakes, an east Columbia Democrat who pledged in August 2002 to support a smoking ban, said he does not feel bound by that anymore.

"If I'm voted out of office because of my vote on this issue, then so be it. We need people who are leaders and do what is right."

Jessup tavern owner Stan Nasiatka said he feared losing 10 percent to 20 percent of his business to nearby Anne Arundel County taverns if Robey's bill is passed.

"Losing 10 to 20 percent is awful scary to me," he said.

Anti-smoking forces are hoping Howard will join Prince George's, Montgomery and Talbot counties as no-smoking jurisdictions to help build support in January's General Assembly session for a statewide ban.

In Howard, three of the five council members have expressed opposition to Robey's total ban.

If approved, his bill would replace Howard's 1996 law that requires separately ventilated, walled-off smoking areas in restaurants. The measure would give places that allow smoking two years to make the change. More than 80 percent of Howard restaurants are smoke-free.

Joe Barbera, president of the Howard County Restaurant Owners Association, argued in testimony prepared for the hearing that although his restaurant is nonsmoking, he wants other operators to have the chance to decide themselves instead of allowing government to impose a ban.

Lobbyist Bruce C. Bereano, who represents tobacco wholesalers, also opposed Robey's bill. He said the current law - which he opposed when it was debated in 1993 - is sufficient.

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