Smoking ban to be aired

Annapolis council could pass strong bill or follow county's lead

February 11, 2007|By Nia-Malika Henderson and Nina Sears | Nia-Malika Henderson and Nina Sears,sun reporters

Two anti-smoking bills that the Annapolis city council will consider tomorrow night could put the city out front in the battle to ban lighting up in bars and restaurants or follow the county's lead.

Alderman Sam Shropshire, a Ward 7 Democrat, said legislation he will introduce to outlaw smoking in restaurants and bars would protect employees from secondhand smoke and "send a very strong statement that we fully expect the county to follow suit."

Michael I. Christman, a Ward 2 Republican, is set to introduce a bill that would adopt whatever legislation the county passed.

Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold proposed last month prohibiting smoking in county establishments, but the measure will not come up unless the state fails to enact a smoking ban.

"From a business perspective, the city shouldn't be out by itself," Christman said. "I thought it made more sense to make it contingent on the county's adoption of smoke-free legislation."

Shropshire, who has met with about 10 restaurant and bar owners who are concerned about the effects of a smoking ban, has wavered in recent days on what kind of legislation to offer. He drafted legislation, then pulled it, joining in Christman's proposal, and has since returned to the stronger legislation.

"My legislation points out the health hazards and appeals to the state and county, but I am willing to compromise so that it isn't go it alone," Shropshire said. "But I don't want Annapolis businesses to suffer inordinately. The state needs to be courageous and pass legislation, and so does the county."

Five counties in Maryland -- Charles, Howard, Montgomery, Prince George's and Talbot -- have enacted smoking bans, and the Baltimore City Council will take up a smoking ban tomorrow. Opponents of smoking bans say it would hurt businesses as smokers stay away.

Melvin Thompson, who represents the Restaurant Association of Maryland, said smoking bans should be left up to owners. He said independent restaurants especially suffer with bans because smokers account for a large percentage of alcohol sales.

"Smokers are also drinkers, and when you lose alcohol sales, it eats significantly into sales, and mom-and-pop restaurants are the first ones affected," he said. "Chain operations are fine because their business model is high-volume food sales."

Jennifer Dionisio, a 27-year-old smoker who works in the city, said she would probably stay away from Annapolis bars if a ban were enacted.

"Business will definitely go down, especially during the wintertime," she said. "I won't go in a bar unless you can smoke in it, because if you're in a bar, you don't want to leave your drink to go smoke a cigarette."

Shropshire said any economic downturn would be temporary and that businesses would rebound in the long run.

"People like to go to smoke-free restaurants and bars. Even smokers have indicated they support smoke-free legislation," Shropshire said. "This is not an unpopular issue with the people, and it's not a partisan issue. We need to protect our workers."

Shropshire said he plans to pressure the county to act if the state fails to pass a smoking ban and to make sure that any county legislation includes the city.

County Councilman Josh Cohen, who represents Annapolis and is a proponent of a county smoking ban, said the county wouldn't include the city in any anti-smoking legislation unless the city requested that it do so.

"I am encouraged by both bills, and the timing seems to be right for the city and the county to adopt a smoking ban together," he said. "But it remains to be seen whether or not the votes are there."

It could take about four months for both bills to make it through city council, by which time the state or county might have enacted a ban.

If the state and county do not enact bans, Shropshire said, he will probably pull his legislation and look at offering tax incentives to bars and restaurant owners volunteering to go smoke-free.

Last month, state Sen. Katherine A. Klausmeier of Baltimore County introduced a bill that offers tax credits of up to $5,000 for businesses that prohibit smoking.

In other city council business, newly elected Sheila M. Finlayson of Ward 4 and Ross H. Arnett of Ward 8 will be sworn in before the meeting at 7 p.m.

nia.henderson@baltsun.com nsears@baltsun.com

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