New smoking law near

Ban will include public buildings, athletic events, many hotel rooms


When Jill Scott, Erykah Badu, Kelis, Mo'nique and Queen Latifah take the stage Aug. 13 for the Sugar Water Festival at Merriweather Post Pavilion, no wisps of cigarette smoke should be visible among the fans - even those sitting on the lawn.

Starting Tuesday, smoking at Merriweather will be illegal - just as it will be in all public buildings, for office workers standing within 15 feet of any building entrance, at outdoor athletic events, in 75 percent of hotel rooms and in much of the Travel America truck stop in Jessup.

That is the day Howard County's new, tougher no-smoking law takes effect, though restaurants and bars that allow smoking have until June 7 next year to go smoke-free.

Howard County is the first jurisdiction in the Baltimore area to go totally smoke-free - following Montgomery, Prince George's and Talbot counties elsewhere in Maryland. The General Assembly has defeated smoke-free laws four years in a row, though advocates hope to get one passed eventually.

"I think it's a wonderful thing for the residents of Howard County to be able to visit any establishment they want and not be exposed to secondhand smoke," said Dr. Penny E. Borenstein, the county health officer. "It's a clear health risk and some individuals feel they cannot avoid that risk."

Borenstein pushed hard for the law, which after months of political wrangling on the County Council, was pushed through by sponsors County Executive James N. Robey, County Councilman Ken Ulman and the two other council Democrats.

County police officers, who will enforce the law on a complaint-only basis, will issue civil citations for fines of $100 for individuals, or $250 per infraction for owners or managers of businesses.

Sherry Llewellyn, a police spokeswoman, said officers are getting a training bulletin on the new law.

"They won't be looking for violations," she said. "The first goal is to get compliance."

When officers respond to a complaint, Llewellyn said, they will ask the person to stop smoking. If the person refuses, a citation would be the next step.

County parks will soon be adorned with new signs alerting visitors to the law, said Gary J. Arthur, director of the county Department of Recreation and Parks, though in some areas - such as walking paths - smoking still will be legal.

Glenn Schneider, legislative director for the Howard County Smoke-Free Coalition, said his group is running newspaper ads to alert the public and will send letters to restaurant and bar owners who still permit smoking urging them to change now.

"Quite honestly, it makes sense to do it now," he said. "Why wait?"

The coalition will advertise any place that prohibits smoking early, he said.

Maryland Restaurant Association Vice President Melvin Thompson said restaurants that have few smoking customers might do that, but restaurants or bars that depend on smokers will not.

"They would likely wait until they're forced," he said.

Signs are up at some Columbia office buildings, warning smokers to stay at least 15 feet away from the entrance, but few smokers appeared upset about the new regulations this week.

"I've always been very considerate of people who don't smoke. I try to be courteous," said Patty Coffman, 46, of North Laurel, who sat on a bench smoking in the breezy shade Wednesday in front of the Parkside Building near The Mall in Columbia.

Coffman said that not having any place to light up at Merriweather is upsetting.

But Jean Parker, manager of Merriweather, said the law will make things easier for pavilion staff members.

"In general, we highly discourage smoking," she said, and people smoking on the lawn are asked to move if anyone near them is offended.

"We just don't want any type of potential altercation," she said. "Now, I think it just makes it a lot easier. The smoker who previously had rights now has no rights. That's a good thing."

Smoking has not been allowed in the permanent pavilion seats since 1987, Parker said.

Several smokers outside Columbia's office buildings sympathized with nonsmokers.

Although Karl Buesching, 45, of Baltimore was smoking with a co-worker, he said that he didn't "like walking through a cloud" to get to his job.

Dorothy Finney, 55, of Columbia said she is a former marathon runner who has quit the habit several times but keeps coming back.

"Smoking's disgusting," she said, complaining that many office workers dump their butts in bushes and on the sidewalk instead of in cans provided for them.

Daryl Piper, 26, said he thinks that forcing people who smoke to do it outside bars and restaurants is a good thing, too, as he dragged on his cigarette.

"You don't get that smell on your clothes," he said.

But Anthony Sipos, 23, of Towson said he would find watching a concert or going to a bar "less enjoyable" without a smoke.

"I'd rather go to a bar where I can have a smoke with my drink," he said.

Smokers tend to linger longer, drink a bit more and "have more fun" than nonsmokers, Sipos said.

Borenstein said the county has a free smoking-cessation class for people who live or work in the county. Anyone interested can call 410-313-6265.

Smoking-ban exemptions

When Howard County's no-smoking law takes effect Tuesday, some places will remain exempt. Those include:

Restaurants and bars that have smoking areas may continue to allow smoking until June 7, 2007.

Private clubs or lodges owned and operated by certain membership associations, such as veterans groups.

Twenty-five percent of sleeping rooms in hotels and motels.

Some outdoor seating areas at bars and restaurants.

The 15-foot distance that smokers must stay away from entrances to public buildings does not apply on Main Street in Ellicott City because of narrow sidewalks.

Overnight truck stops were exempted under current county smoking laws, but not under the new law.

[Larry Carson]

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