Smoking advocates look to legislature for relief


Opponents of Maryland's sweeping new ban on workplace smoking vowed yesterday to take their fight to the state legislature, where some lawmakers already are moving to exempt bars, hotels and restaurants.

As the governor announced the ban will take effect March 27, businesses that cater to tourists and conventioneers complained that it will hurt their business.

"We think it's up to the marketplace to decide what we should be doing, not the state Department of Licensing and Regulation," said Mary Jo McCulloch, executive director of both the Maryland Tourism Council and the Maryland Hotel and Motel Association.

Unless changed by the legislature, the regulation will forbid smoking by customers and employees in restaurants, bars, hotels, offices, factories and almost all other public and private workplaces. Smokers will be forced to go outside for a cigarette if their workplaces do not install specially ventilated smoking lounges.

And restaurants may have to keep watch over customers to make sure they don't light up. "Do I have to police John Q. Public, too?" complained Karen Ortel of the Harris Crab House in Kent Narrows.

At a press conference arranged by licensed beverage dealers yesterday, Del. John S. Arnick unveiled a bill to exempt bars, hotels and motels, as well as convention centers, racetracks, restaurants and clubs with alcoholic beverage licenses.

Those businesses, however, would be required to set up separate smoking and nonsmoking areas, the Baltimore County Democrat said.

The General Assembly would have to move with uncommon speed to pass such a bill by March 27. Legislators could move to change the regulation after it takes effect, though they would have to override an almost certain veto by the governor.

Mr. Arnick said he wanted to give a break to tourist-oriented businesses, as well as to fraternal and veterans organizations such as the American Legion, Moose, Elks, Lions and Veterans of Foreign Wars.

He said there are 85 delegates sponsoring the legislation -- 14 more than needed to pass it in the House and just enough to override a gubernatorial veto.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. said he expected many senators would support efforts to weaken or redraft the regulation.

Earlier yesterday, Gov. Parris N. Glendening said he will allow the regulation to take effect March 27, two days before the nation's tTC top tobacco companies challenge its validity in court. The governor said he will make two concessions to business concerns. First, the state won't fine hotels that tell guests not to smoke but are ignored by the guests. Secondly, he said he would be willing to sign legislation that exempts very small restaurants and bars.

"I will not support any bill that compromises the integrity and purpose of the ban, [which is] to protect Maryland's work force from the hazardous effects of tobacco. I will veto any effort to repeal those regulations or make major modifications of those regulations," the governor said.

The ban is designed to protect workers from secondhand smoke, which has been linked to cancer, heart attacks and lung ailments in nonsmokers. "Second-hand smoke will kill 1,000 Marylanders this year alone," Mr. Glendening said. "According to recent studies, approximately 60 percent of Maryland employees work in locations where smoking is permitted in common public and work areas."

The governor noted that his mother died of lung cancer about 15 years ago after years of heavy smoking. He said he was also influenced by former state Sen. Victor L. Crawford, a one-time tobacco lobbyist turned tobacco foe. Mr. Crawford used to smoke heavily until he developed cancer and began speaking out against tobacco.

The governor introduced the frail-looking Mr. Crawford. "My gosh, you got me crying," the former senator said. "I try to speak for the people in the oncology centers who can't speak, and they bless you. People will live who might have died otherwise."

Mr. Glendening said he did not believe the smoking ban will cost the state significant tourist business, noting that other "convention-oriented" states and cities have restricted smoking.

The maximum potential loss of "one conference or two" from Maryland must be balanced against "the number of people who are suffering and dying from cancer -- and the fact it's costing us $1.2 billion dollars a year in health costs," he said.

Violators could be fined up to $7,000 per incident, but Mr. Glendening said the state will not rush to impose fines.

Most large employers already ban smoking on the job, so the regulation will have little effect on the work life of tens of thousands of Marylanders, said Susan O'Hare, president of a trade association of 900 area human resource managers.

But those who work for small businesses are likely to see a dramatic change. Many small business owners threw up their hands and said they'd comply with the ban.

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