On-job smokers brace for jitters

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Maryland workers who smoke had better check the weather forecast, because by Tuesday morning thousands will be stepping outdoors to light up.

Nonsmokers, meanwhile, can expect cleaner air in their workplaces. But watch out for crankiness among nicotine-deprived colleagues. One of the nation's more restrictive bans on smoking at work takes effect at the close of the business day tomorrow -- meaning that most smokers will feel the pinch when they report for work Tuesday.

The actual trigger for the ban is an order to implement it from Maryland's highest court. That directive is expected late tomorrow afternoon. By that time, Gov. Parris N. Glendening and legislative leaders hope to finish a compromise plan exempting bars, hotels and some restaurants. But there is no reprieve for factories, business offices, shops and even company vehicles occupied by two or more people.

The smoking light will be snuffed, except in the rare instances where companies provide designated rooms ventilated to the outside and not used by nonsmoking workers for other purposes.

Moreover, beleaguered puffers will be shooed outside from the cafeterias, restrooms, hallways and stairwells where many had found refuge in the wake of prior smoking bans imposed by company or local-government edict.

"There's going to be a period when we're all a little bit crabby," said attorney Arnold M. Weiner, between puffs of a Macanudo cigar at his office downtown.

He expects the ban to reduce his firm's productivity, at least initially. Lawyers and clients who smoke will have to ride the elevator 21 floors to the street to light up. "I guess we'll be holding meetings out on the sidewalk," he said.

Clearer days

For nonsmoking workers, it will be the dawn of a clearer day no matter what the weather outside. When they do encounter indoor smoking, they can file complaints with the Maryland Division of Labor and Industry. The agency will keep their names confidential if requested.

The state's ban was imposed by regulatory action as a workplace health and safety measure. Violations carry fines of up to $7,000 -- against employers, not smokers. State officials, however, will impose no fines, and will promote educational efforts, for the first six months.

There also will be no "smoke police." If everyone in an office, shop or company vehicle should happen to agree to smoke, the state might not find out until someone complained, said Carolyn West, regulations coordinator for the division.

Smoking in city patrol cars is "a tension reliever, and God knows we do need to relieve stress or tension any way we can," said Officer Gary McLhinney, president of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3 in Baltimore City. There and elsewhere, patrol cars carrying two officers must be smoke-free.

"I guess we'll have to abide by the law the way it's written," he said. But as a practical matter, officers are unlikely to file complaints against one another.

Smoking lounge

At least one business is preparing to capitalize on the ban. Fader's tobacco shop on East Baltimore Street plans to add a smoking lounge, complete with couches, chairs and possibly telephones, said company President Bill Fader. Tobacconists are exempt from the regulations.

"People who smoke already come here to chat, relax and do business," Mr. Fader said. "This way, we'll continue to accommodate them."

Others, however, were facing the deadline with less cheer.

At General Motors Corp.'s Broening Highway plant, smoking on the assembly line will end, and smokers will have to go outside on breaks. GM last week set up counseling sessions to help them cope.

At the Bata Shoe Co. Inc., a work-shoe manufacturer in Belcamp, human resources manager Barbara Higgins said 30 percent to 35 percent of her company's 185 employees are smokers. Their former refuges -- restrooms and a canteen -- will become smoke-free, leaving outdoors as the only acceptable smoking area.

Ed Zynel, a Bata manager and a smoker, said he expects no adverse effect on the plant's production of roughly 6,000 pairs of boots a day. But he is not looking forward to next winter.

'Where are our rights?'

"It's not fair at all," said Donna Pangburn, a Bata inspector who doesn't light up at home to protect her children from cigarette smoke, but goes through an entire pack on her 12-hour work shift.

"The nonsmokers here aren't even complaining," she said. "Where are our rights?"

Had the new smoking regulations been extended to all bars, restaurants, hotels and convention centers, Maryland would rank with California and Utah as one of the toughest anti-smoking states in the nation. But lobbyists for the "hospitality" industry have worked feverishly in recent weeks to exempt their clients, saying the ban would drive away tourists and conventioneers.

Many Marylanders will see little, if any, change.

Federal property exempt

Workers on federal property are not covered by the state regulations. Neither are mine employees, certain harbor workers and atomic energy workers covered by federal legislation. Indoor smoking already is banned at all Maryland state office buildings and work sites as a result of a 1992 executive order by then-Gov. William Donald Schaefer.

Public buildings and schools are smoke-free in Baltimore, and in Harford, Howard, Carroll, Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties.

"We had legislation passed, oh, a year and a half ago," said Baltimore County Administrative Officer Merreen E. Kelly. Smoking also was banned in 1993 in the common areas of 12 Baltimore County shopping malls.

The state ban, however, now will end smoking in county-owned vehicles occupied by more than one person, and in the Towson courthouse canteen, which was exempt from the county law.

Anne Arundel County already outlaws smoking in businesses with more than 50 employees and requires nonsmoking areas in restaurants that seat 75 or more patrons. Smoking is banned in public areas such as malls, banks and auditoriums.

Administrators elsewhere were still wondering last week about how to respond to the ban.

At the state's 23 correctional facilities, employees already are permitted to smoke only outdoors under the 1992 executive order.

But smokers among the state's 21,000 inmates have been allowed some indoor smoking privileges, which will become problematic tomorrow because the prisons are also workplaces.

Prison authorities still were working on a solution, said Maxine Eldridge, spokeswoman for the Division of Correction. "Something will be announced [this] week," she said.

Most private employers already have tackled the smoking issue in some fashion.

The Rouse Co., which owns the Gallery at Harborplace, White Marsh Mall and The Mall in Columbia, instituted a smoking ban in its retail centers across the country late last year.

Gains and losses

Forty-eight Maryland firms answered a smoking survey by the Division of Labor and Industry in 1993. Among the findings:

* Only six reported that they had no smoking restrictions at all.

* Fourteen said they allowed smoking in designated indoor areas -- havens that will become illegal tomorrow.

* At least 24 said they allowed smoking outdoors only.

* Three said they banned smoking on all company property.

Those that had banned smoking reported both gains and losses.

"Most employees expressed the fact that they have reduced their smoking intake," said Alan Morris of the Rubberset Co. in Crisfield, where smoking was banned. He also cited "improved productivity."

The Mulholland Harper Co. in Denton told the state there was "less bickering in the office."

Other employers, however, reported worker resentment, union trouble, lost production time, smokers congregating around doorways on breaks or fire-safety worries as workers tried to sneak smokes.

But Eric Gally, an official of the American Cancer Society, Maryland Division, said the long-term benefits include lower life- and health-insurance premiums, lower cleaning and maintenance costs and fewer employee sick days.

The National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says health care costs for smoking-related illnesses topped $50 billion in 1993.

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