Capital Notebook

Capital Notebook

February 15, 2006

Secondhand smoke costs are estimated

Hoping to build momentum for a statewide smoking ban and to answer critics who say a ban would hurt Maryland's economy, health advocates unveiled a Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health study yesterday that estimated the costs of secondhand smoke at nearly $600 million a year in doctor's bills and lost wages.

"My take on this is sort of, `What are we doing as a society that we're letting this happen?'" said Hugh Waters, the study's author, who added that the costs could be even higher.

This is the fourth year health advocates have pushed for a statewide ban on smoking at bars and restaurants, which are the biggest opponents of such a ban. They are represented in Maryland by the powerful Restaurant Association of Maryland.

"This is about special interests trying to use government to interfere with customers' choices," association spokesman Melvin Thompson said recently.

Maryland has banned smoking in the workplace since 1995. Supporters pushing to expand the rules to restaurants and taverns say waitresses and bartenders deserve the same protections enjoyed by office workers.

The Hopkins study, paid for by the American Cancer Society, found that nearly 98 percent of bar and restaurant employees are exposed to second-hand smoke.

Twelve states -- including most recently Virginia -- ban smoking in bars and restaurants. In Maryland, three counties -- Montgomery, Prince George's and Talbot -- have comprehensive smoking restrictions.

Many members of the House Health and Government Operations Committee, where the bill was heard yesterday, seemed skeptical.

"If this is something everybody wanted, everybody would go smoke-free" without a law, said Del. Eric M. Bromwell, a Baltimore County Democrat.

Jill Rosen

Registry bill wins support

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s proposal for an advance-directive registry, where people can file living wills or similar documents expressing their end-of-life care desires, received support from gay-rights groups and others yesterday.

The measure, based on legislation in states such as North Carolina and Arizona, would create a database at the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene where people could designate another adult to make medical decisions on their behalf. The proposal includes a provision that would indicate enrollees on driver's licenses or state identification cards.

While gay-rights advocates support the legislation, they said the proposal falls short of a bill passed by lawmakers and vetoed by Ehrlich last year that would have allowed unmarried couples 11 benefits, including the right to hospital visitation and to oversee funeral arrangements.

"We would much rather have had the medical decision-making act signed into law, but in the absence of that support from the administration, we are trying to work with them and legislators," said Ann Ciekot, a lobbyist for Equality Maryland, after a hearing on the bill yesterday in the House Health and Government Operations Committee.

Kelly Brewington

Lunar New Year bill is backed

Noting the rapid growth of the state's Asian population, scores of representatives from advocacy groups around Maryland called on lawmakers yesterday to adopt a measure that would commemorate the Asian lunar New Year.

A proposed bill would not make the lunar New Year a state holiday but would recognize it throughout Maryland. Asian advocates said yesterday that the push for the commemoration goes beyond recognizing contributions of the state's second fastest-growing minority group, and sends a message about cultural inclusion.

"For as long as I've been in this country, I've always felt so guilty about taking the day off, so I haven't," said Lily Qi, president of the Organization of Chinese Americans of Greater Washington, who called the lunar New Year a "millennia-long institution that is deeply integral in our heart and soul."

Kelly Brewington

Reese named to Howard bench

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. selected lawyer Mary C. Reese yesterday to serve on the Howard District Court.

Reese, 44, must be confirmed by the Senate Executive Nominations Committee, which will receive her name this week, said Shareese N. DeLeaver, a spokeswoman for the governor. An Ellicott City resident, Reese has been in private practice with Reese & Carney since 1996 and is general counsel to the Howard County Board of Elections. The governor selected her to take the spot of Judge Louis A. Becker III, who was appointed last year to the Howard County Circuit Court.

Laura Cadiz

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