Stub it out

October 25, 2006

Today at 5 p.m., a Baltimore City Council committee will hold a public hearing on a smoking ban for the city's bars and restaurants. We hope it clears the air a little bit. Councilman Robert W. Curran, the sponsor of the proposed ban - which he prefers to call a workplace safety issue - is enthusiastic about the testimony he expects to hear against smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke, and predicts that he can get a bill passed by January. It's about time.

The opposition is predictable. Restaurant and bar owners complain that a ban will hurt their business, though interestingly that doesn't seem to be the case in Italy or France or Ireland or Scotland or the 14 American states that have outlawed tobacco smoke in public places. Iran, believe it or not, has just decided to ban smoking - but somehow Baltimore just drags and drags on the matter.

The American Lung Association says that up to 70,000 Americans die every year from exposure to secondhand smoke, which suggests that about 150 nonsmoking Baltimoreans are killed every year by those who do smoke. That's something that every bar employee - and every bar owner and bar patron - should think about.

Opponents suggest that no one is forced to work in a bar, which is true, but hardly the point. No one is forced to work in a steel mill or department store, either, and yet there are laws governing worker safety in those places and just about everywhere else.

One argument offered by the tavern proprietors does make a little sense, and that is that bars near the city's boundaries are likely to be at a disadvantage in competing with establishments in Baltimore County or Anne Arundel. But the obvious counterargument is that those two suburban counties should join the city (and Montgomery and Prince George's and Howard and Talbot counties) in enacting their own bans. Actually, though, there's an easier way, and that's to have the state do it.

Philadelphia voted for a ban and now Pennsylvania is moving in the same direction; in fact, the state's restaurant owners association has changed course and come out in support. "Once New York City did it, New York state did it," says Mr. Curran. "Once Boston did it, Massachusetts did it." Can Maryland be far behind?

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