For Roxann Stark, a dedicated, two-pack-a-day smoker who works in the Baltimore County Circuit Court clerk's office, indulging her habit is about to get tougher.
Chief Judge Robert C. Murphy, who administratively rules Maryland's court system, is preparing to ban smoking in court facilities statewide. And the Baltimore County Council is scheduled to hear a bill next week calling for a ban on smoking in public bathrooms.
Those actions would force Ms. Stark, who works in the county courts building in Towson and does her smoking there in the designated ladies bathroom, to go outside to smoke a cigarette. Asked what she would do under those circumstances, Ms. Stark, 38, answered without hesitation, "I'd commit suicide." She also said she wouldn't consider giving up the habit.
County Councilman Melvin G. Mintz, D-2nd, Councilman Donald C. Mason, D-7th, are sponsoring the bill. Mr. Mintz, who sponsored a June 1987 bill that banned smoking in most county public places, said he has received "dozens" of complaints about smoking in bathrooms.
Merreen E. Kelly, county administrative officer, also said the county has received many complaints, particularly about the courts building. Courtrooms and offices occupy three of the building's six floors.
"People who come there are so often under so much stress" that they often smoke in bathrooms designated as "no smoking" areas, he said.
Circuit Court administrator Robert J. Lally said people called to jury duty are currently allowed to smoke in a specially designated smoking room.
Judge Murphy said he will decide on banning smoking in all court-owned or leased space within the next few weeks but added, "I pretty much know what I'm going to do." He said he is waiting for feedback from court officials statewide before signing his administrative order.
The order would institute a standard smoking policy statewide. Currently, each subdivision has its own policy. Prince George's County bans smoking, while Queen Anne's County has no rules at all. Between those two extremes are policies ranging from allowing smoking only in a judge's chambers to limiting it to designated bathrooms.
In Towson's court building, where Ms. Stark works, bathrooms on the building's north end are designated for smokers. That arrangement has its own share of problems. Yesterday, a receptionist on the building's fourth floor complained about not being able to go to the bathroom nearest her desk because it is crowded with smokers. Instead of using that bathroom, she uses one at the opposite end of the hallway. The woman, who would not give her name, didn't have any sympathy for smokers.
"Let them go outside," she said.