Pro- and anti-smoking forces played legal hardball yesterday as both sought to pick the turf for the court fight over Maryland's new ban on workplace smoking.
In the morning, Action on Smoking and Health, an anti-smoking legal-action group, persuaded a judge to order that all challenges to the ban be heard in Baltimore Circuit Court. That way the tobacco industry could not take its case to a friendlier, tobacco-growing county, members of the group said.
The judge's ruling specifically included possible challenges by the Tobacco Institute, a trade group, and Philip Morris U.S.A., a cigarette manufacturer.
By afternoon, however, the tobacco industry struck back. In rural Talbot County's Circuit Court, four tobacco companies filed their own suit challenging the smoking ban, said their lawyer, George A. Nilson of Piper & Marbury in Baltimore.
Philip Morris decided not to take part in that suit to prevent any conflict with the earlier ruling in Baltimore, a spokesman said.
Sixteen Maryland businesses and trade associations, including restaurants, bars, resorts and hotels, joined the American, R. J. Reynolds, Lorillard and Brown & Williamson tobacco companies in the Talbot County legal challenge.
The suit claims that the state Department of Licensing and Regulation did not have the authority to adopt a regulation banning workplace smoking.
The ban, the toughest of its kind in the nation, forbids smoking in offices, restaurants, bars, factories, stores and almost all other indoor workplaces, beginning Aug. 1.
The state claims that it is exercising its power to safeguard workers' safety and health by protecting all employees from the hazards of second-hand smoke.
Action on Smoking and Health, or ASH, generally supports the ban but contends that it does not go far enough. The group, which claims 80,000 contributors nationwide, asked the court in Baltimore yesterday to overturn a provision allowing employers to set up specially ventilated smoking lounges, said law professor John Banzhaf, executive director of the Washington-based group.
Although the lounges would have to meet strict ventilation standards, they could still leak some smoke into working areas, Mr. Banzhaf said.
ASH is to argue its case at 10 a.m. Wednesday before Circuit Judge Clifton J. Gordy Jr. in Baltimore.
A spokesman for Philip Morris, John C. Lenzi, said yesterday his company believes it will be dropped from the ASH case. Philip Morris then would join its fellow cigarette manufacturers in the Talbot County case, he said in a prepared statement.
A hearing on the Talbot case is scheduled for 3 p.m. Wednesday. Talbot's sole circuit judge is William S. Horne.