Snuffed

February 28, 2007

By passing a smoking ban that covers bars and restaurants Monday night, the Baltimore City Council put the question where it belongs: in Annapolis. Getting the smoke out of drinking establishments is the right step; doing it statewide is the only fair way to go about it.

Bar owners and friendly officeholders have been most vocal over the years in opposing smoking bans both in Baltimore and statewide. They say they don't want to lose business. The specific argument in Baltimore that a city ban would force drinkers to take their business to the suburbs was not very convincing, because that's not what has happened in other cities - but if that's what the proprietors and their allies truly believe, then they should come out four-square for a state law that would put every jurisdiction in Maryland on an even footing. And even if they don't believe it, clearing away the tobacco smoke, from the ocean to the mountains, is still the right thing to do.

You hear some smokers muttering about the "nanny state." Bars were their last refuge, and they point out that no one is forced to patronize or work at a bar. No one is forced to drive on the Jones Falls Expressway, either - yet drivers should have a reasonable expectation that other drivers will adhere (more or less) to the speed limit, and that the police will be on the lookout. A bar is a public accommodation, and people shouldn't be taking their lives in their hands every time they enter one.

You think that's overstating it? Researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health measured the air in 14 Baltimore bars in January and found that particle levels were 10 times higher than the federal government considers safe. Secondhand tobacco smoke causes nearly 50,000 deaths a year nationwide. It won't kill you the way a speeding driver will - but when it does eventually kill you, the death will be a lot slower and more miserable than one from the typical traffic accident. The General Assembly must act; it will save lives.

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