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All Smoke and No Action


Next Monday, the Anne Arundel County Council is to vote on two anti-smoking bills -- one that would provide protection for non-smokers where they need it most, the other measure a watered-down token.

The watered-down version, sponsored by Councilwoman Diane Evans, will be the one the council approves. Council members George Bachman, Carl G. "Dutch" Holland and David G. Boschert have signed on to the bill, giving Mrs. Evans the four votes needed to pass it.

As anti-smoking laws go, this one is pretty feeble. It bans smoking in county buildings, which County Executive Robert R. Neall has already done. And it prohibits smoking in banks, health-care facilities, museums, lecture halls and the commons TTC areas of shopping malls. That's fine.

But let's face it, smoking isn't that big of a deal in these places. The real health issue exists in more confined establishments where people light up -- restaurants, hotels, motels and the private workplace, all exempted under Mrs. Evans' proposal.

The other bill, sponsored by Councilwoman Maureen Lamb, would limit smoking to designated areas in these public places, but is doomed because the four council members will not buck the business community's opposition to the restrictions.

Mrs. Evans and Mr. Bachman said up front that they believed the Lamb bill would impose hardships on business. Mr. Boschert, the council chairman, made an amusing pretense of opposing the Lamb measure because it "didn't go far enough," but notice how quickly he signed on to a much weaker bill.

Mrs. Evans has been a gutsy business advocate since her election. But her denunciation of Mrs. Lamb's bill as "pie in the sky" is simply off-base.

Mrs. Lamb proposed no precedent-setting restrictions -- just the same protections already in place in Baltimore, Montgomery, Howard and Prince George's counties and hundreds of other jurisdictions. And the laws are getting tougher. Howard County could soon have the strictest anti-smoking laws on the East Coast if a bill banning smoking in malls, workplaces and restaurants passes; total bans are already in place in dozens of West Coast cities.

If the County Council prefers to err on the side of business, so be it.

But it shouldn't deceive us into thinking the smoking bill it's about to approve is particularly progressive or important. It is not.

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