No time to fold

February 12, 2007

It's time for Baltimore to ban smoking in public places. There are no more excuses. A no-smoking bill that kicked around the City Council last year should be passed into law. Mayor Sheila Dixon has expressed greater support for this measure than her predecessor did; failure to enact it now would be a blot on the city's political leadership.

Bar owners are the chief local opponents of such a ban. They argue that their customers would desert them for Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties if the city were to outlaw smoking. It's not a convincing argument; it didn't happen when New York banned smoking, and it didn't happen when Howard, Montgomery, Prince George's and Talbot counties banned smoking.

But it doesn't matter, in any case - because proponents of a smoking bill in the General Assembly are confident that if the city votes for a ban, a statewide bill that would go into effect sooner would be cleared for passage. Once a city bill is enacted, the thinking goes, members of the Baltimore delegation in Annapolis will line up together in support of statewide action, if only to protect city tavern owners from the specter of smoker-friendly suburban competition.

Last year, the U.S. surgeon general reported that exposure to secondhand smoke causes 46,000 deaths every year from cardiac-related illnesses and 3,400 from lung cancer. Every American pays indirectly for the medical care of those who are afflicted. But no business should be exposing its customers and its employees to toxic and potentially life-threatening fumes when, as other cities and states and countries have shown, it's a simple matter to do away with them.

When a smoking ban went into effect in Helena, Mont., hospital admissions for heart attacks dropped 40 percent over six months, a study found. Similar results have turned up elsewhere.

The vice president of the City Council, Robert W. Curran, who has been relentlessly pushing a smoking ban, says he intends to bring his bill up for a vote at tonight's meeting. He says it's the most important thing he's ever done, and he points out that it's not every day the City Council has the chance to take an action that can save people's lives.

Mr. Curran compares the politicking around the ban to a game of Texas hold 'em. "I'm all in on this," he says. That means he's going for broke. The city, and the state, will be the winners if he takes the pot.

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