Ironically, in order to avoid competition among its businesses for customers who smoke, Howard County may end up with an even stronger anti-smoking bill than the one originally proposed last spring and vetoed by the county executive.
Republican Councilman Darrel Drown has proposed an amendment to the earlier bill that would strike an exemption for bars and taverns. In effect, that would mean all county public establishments and workplaces will be required to be smoke-free by July 1996. Mr. Drown says doing away with the exemption is necessary to avoid "internal competition" among businesses and facilitate enforcement.
Opponents to the bill have long argued that it would cause restaurant-goers to travel outside the county where there is no smoking ban. Those assertions have never been proven; in fact, the initiative may well have the reverse impact by attracting the growing pool of non-smokers looking for a smokeless environment.
(County Executive Charles Ecker contended that if restaurants thought smoking bans would help business, they'd have created their own long ago, but any individual entrepreneur's ban wouldn't have the impact or get the attention this countywide regulation would.)
Mr. Drown's amendment should satisfy the county executive, who had largely based his opposition on the exemption for bars and taverns and also to a so-called "smokers' rights" clause, which would have made it illegal to fire or not hire someone who happened to be a smoker. We never viewed this amendment as being as onerous as some made it out to be, but it should not stand in the way of this legislation.
It will be three years before this law, if passed, takes full effect. The hope of many in Howard County is that that grace period will give the General Assembly time to enact statewide smoking restrictions in public places. There is no guarantee, however, that the state will do anything to offend the strong tobacco lobby.
It makes no sense for Howard to wait for state legislation that may never come. Second-hand smoke continues to be an ever-present danger to workers and clientele in confined quarters. Every month that passes exposes more people to the carcinogenic effects of such smoke. That alone should be enough to warrant this legislation.