Bill to cut exemptions from smoking ban assailed


It would be "ludicrous" for the Howard County Council to remove exemptions from a recently enacted smoking ban, tobacco lobbyist Bruce Bereano said last night.

The smoking ban takes effect July 1, 1996, allowing time for the General Assembly to enact a state-wide smoking ban. It provides exemptions for restaurant bars that are self-enclosed and have separate ventilation systems, overnight trucks stops and retail tobacco stores.

Mr. Bereano told the council at last night's public hearing on a bill to remove the exemptions that he did not want to appear arrogant, but that "at no time will the state legislature ban smoking in bars and taverns.

"What makes the legislation ludicrous," he said, "is that bars and taverns are very unique. People go in on a voluntary basis. This is a very anti-business piece of legislation. You're telling business people we don't care about you."

Removal of the exemptions would make Howard the only jurisdiction in the state that bans smoking in bars and taverns -- something that would have a very negative effect on business, he said.

Mr. Bereano said it is "very likely" that the Washington Redskins professional football team will be moving to Laurel, but that outlawing smoking in bars and taverns would prevent Howard from sharing in the economic benefits of such a move.

People who would be opening motels and restaurants that might serve stadium crowds "are very much aware of what the local laws are and will locate elsewhere," he said.

If the council passes the bill removing the exemptions, members will reveal themselves as anti-business, Mr. Bereano said. "You campaign all you want [expressing support for businesses] but your actions will speak louder than words," he said.

Councilman Darrel Drown, R-2nd, brought the bill before the council as a favor to County Executive Charles I. Ecker who feels that there should be no exemptions to the smoking ban.

Peg Browning, a smoking-ban advocate whose larynx was removed because of cancer 10 years ago, urged passage of the bill. "I don't want to see a county of people ending up like me," she said. Ms. Browning cannot go out in public without bringing with her a portable oxygen tank on wheels that she trails behind her. She was one of two people who spoke in favor of the bill last night.

Four other speakers, mostly restaurateurs, spoke against the bill.

In other action last night, the council agreed that the county must spend $1 million immediately to continue cleanup efforts at the old Carrs Mill landfill where cancer-causing contaminants have been found in ground water and a nearby stream.

What is still at issue, is where the money will come from. The emergency legislation calls for the county to use bond financing, but Councilwoman Shane Pendergrass, D-1st, wants the money to come from contingency reserves. Administration officials argued that there may be other emergencies, such as snow storms, for which the reserves would be needed.

A third issue that drew a lot of comment last night was a bill sponsored by Councilman Paul R. Farragut, D-4th, that would require more notification and more information for residents affected by comprehensive and piecemeal zoning changes.

Ten residents and civic leaders spoke in favor of a bill that would require property owners to notify adjoining landowners by certified mail of their intention to seek a zoning change. No one spoke against the bill, although several people suggested changes in what they said was a confusing process.

"So often, the way an individual is informed [of a zoning change] is through a neighbor," said David Nard of Columbia. "There is inadequate notice, and they learn in a few days, or a few hours, what a petitioner has known for months."

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