Looming smoking ban draws fire and shrugs


Gov. Parris N. Glendening's announcement Thursday that the state would begin enforcing a workplace smoking ban in just 3 1/2 weeks is drawing everything from shrugs of resignation to fists of defiance from Maryland's small-business owners.

"I left Cuba because I was being persecuted, and here, in 'the land of the free,' they do this to me?" asked Carmen de la Yncera, a part-owner of Fantasy Travel in Gaithersburg.

Most large employers in Maryland already have restricted workplace smoking, concerned about evidence that second-hand smoke can contribute to cancer in nonsmokers, and that smoking workers have higher health insurance costs.

Those managers who have banned on-the-job smoking predicted that the transition could be rough for small businesses that will have to ban smoking or build a specially vented room by March 27.

But, they said, many businesses have found ways to lessen the resentment of smokers and the disruption of smoking breaks.

Kay Sienkeluski oversees about 800 nurses at Sheppard and Enoch Pratt Hospital in Baltimore County, which has banned all indoor smoking, causing problems for many of its patients.

So now when staffers plan to go outside for a cigarette, they often take patients along, she said.

State legislators already have begun drafting bills to exempt bars, restaurants, hotels and other tourist-oriented businesses from the new regulation.

But the ban is nevertheless likely to mean the end of on-the-job smoking at thousands of small businesses throughout the state.

Some business owners who smoke said they were preparing for the new regulations.

When he heard about the proposal to ban workplace smoking last year, Robert Kipp, owner of the Video Store in Jarrettsville, set up a back room in his store with air fresheners and a fan connected to a vent just four inches from his ashtray.

The new regulations allow indoor workplace smoking only in specially vented rooms.

Mr. Kipp, who has been smoking about a pack a day for 20 years, said he'll try to smoke next to the vent and hopes that his arrangements meet the letter of the new law.

But if they don't, he'll push against attempts to force him or his customers to smoke outside.

If a customer wants to smoke in the store, Mr. Kipp said he wouldn't object. "I don't want to be the bad guy. I don't want to be the police force for the state."

Nonsmoking business owners, however, said that, though they don't like the idea of the government telling them what to do, they'll go along with the law.

Jim Tolle, owner of Boulevard Automotive in Elkridge, said he thinks the smoking ban "stinks. I think it is going a little bit overboard."

Two of his six repairmen and his son smoke on the job -- though never while working on engines or near gasoline, he noted.

While Mr. Tolle resents the government intrusion, the ex-smoker said he won't fight the ban.

Ms. de la Yncera, who has smoked 1 1/2 packs a day for the past 37 years, said she planned to continue smoking at her desk even after the March 27 deadline.

And if a customer comes in with a cigarette? "I am not going to tell them to put it out," she said. "This is my business. This is my place. I paid for it. . . . They are infringing on my constitutional rights."

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