County Council members said last night that they need more time to decide where people can and can't smoke in Howard.
The council had been expected to approve one of the toughest smoking bans on the East Coast -- a prohibition of smoking in all public places except for about six taverns, beginning July 1, 1996.
Instead, the council postponed its vote on the bill for a month or more to allow Councilmen Darrel Drown, R-2nd, and Paul R. Farragut, D-4th, to come up with compromise language as to what constitutes a bar or tavern.
An earlier bill, vetoed by County Executive Charles I. Ecker, defined them as establishments earning more than half of their income from the sale of alcohol. Restaurant owners complained that the provision was unfair, since most of the county's taverns function as restaurants.
At the behest of the Restaurant Association of Maryland, Mr. Drown and Mr. Farragut changed the definition to say that a bar is a place where "the serving of food is only incidental . . . and the food served requires neither refrigeration nor heating and consists of commercial packaged items or finger food." There are about six such taverns in the county.
Under an amendment introduced by Mr. Farragut, smoking would be allowed in restaurant bars as long as the bar area was sealed off from the dining area and had a separate ventilating system.
"Our purpose is to ban smoking wherever food is prepared or eaten," Mr. Drown said.
To ensure that would happen, Mr. Drown proposed another amendment that would ban smoking at any establishment "which gives or offers food for sale to the public, guests or employees."
The amendment also would ban smoking in kitchens or catering facilities "in which food is prepared on the premises for serving elsewhere."
"We ran into a couple of snags," Mr. Drown said last night when he requested that the legislation be tabled. "I want to make sure we've dotted the i's and crossed the t's."
One of the snags is that the amendments may change the legislation to such a degree that another public hearing is needed.
Council Chairwoman Shane Pendergrass, D-1st, said she had told Mr. Drown and Mr. Farragut that she would support their compromise and "it appears that support means voting to table to give them more time."
Councilman C. Vernon Gray, D-3rd, the chief architect of the bill, also cast a "reluctant" yes vote on the tabling motion, noting that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued a report Wednesday that cautioned people not to smoke indoors, urged parents of young children not to smoke in their homes, and advised employers to take steps to protect workers from second-hand smoke.
"It is important that we keep our commitment to children and nonsmokers," he said. "We need to let them know that this council is intent on banning second-hand smoke. We must be as concerned about this as we are about clean water."