Some see smoking ban as a chance to kick habit


A day after one of the nation's toughest smoking bans went into effect, hard-core Maryland smokers flocked outside into yesterday's cold drizzle, some feeling persecuted and others wondering if finally it may be time to quit.

Even with a last-minute compromise that took some teeth out of the ban, experts across the state debated what effect it would have. Workplace supervisors asked how the regulation would be enforced. Merchants worried about losing business. Restaurants reshuffled their tables.

And some saw the ban as a shot at kicking the habit.

"Hopefully this will be the deciding factor for me to just throw away cigarettes for good," said David Myers, 45, as he puffed just outside the door of his Broadway Liquors store in Fells Point.

Although he's expecting to lose customers who will be offended when he tells them to light up outside, he noted: "I've got to say it's probably good to have the ban. We all know how bad smoking is for us. After 20-plus years, it'll force me to quit."

But others argue that if they want to ruin their health, they ought to have the right.

"Granted, I'm killing myself by smoking. I've tried to quit, but it's the nicotine," said Dawn Durden, a 38-year-old secretary who smoked a cigarette during a break outside the Commerce Place downtown office building. "But why am I able to buy a product, pay the state and federal taxes and not be allowed to use it? I feel like I'm coming out here to smoke a joint, like I'm doing something illegal."

Across Maryland, the ban affected coffee shops to malls to high-rise office buildings.

Carroll County merchants worried that customers would flee to smokier climes in nearby Pennsylvania. In Howard County, debate over the issue of smoking at one restaurant was upstaged only by Brian "Kato" Kaelin's testimony in the O. J. Simpson trial.

Enraged patrons at an Anne Arundel County Dunkin' Donuts threatened a boycott of the smoke-free shop, and in Harford County one merchant worried that the ban will open the door to lawsuits by employees who must work in designated smoking areas.

"It's just another way for letting workers control the business," said John Martino, the owner of Giovanni's Restaurant in Edgewood.

And in Hunt Valley, a smoker shivered outside her high-rise office building by herself, venting her anger. "I think it's disgusting we have to freeze our butts off and get wet," said Janet N. Seibold, a travel agent on a smoke break in yesterday's misty rain.

The ban is being hailed by Gov. Parris N. Glendening as one of the toughest smoking prohibitions in the country today. It has attracted national attention because it was put in place without new legislation but rather under state occupational safety and health regulations.

Experts debated the long-term effect of the ban, which forbids smoking in offices, factories, stores, schools and government buildings.

Patrons may light up in restaurants and in most bowling alleys, pool halls, racetracks and indoor sports arenas -- but only if those businesses provide separate, enclosed smoking rooms. Hotels may set aside 40 percent of their rooms for smokers.

Walker Merryman, vice president of the Tobacco Institute that represents cigarette manufacturers, said that Maryland's ban is unlikely to change smoking habits. He pointed to a last-minute change in the ban that now allows unrestricted smoking in bars, taverns and private clubs that serve alcohol.

"In restaurants and bars, smoking is still going to be permitted," Mr. Merryman said. "Could there be a single human being in Maryland who is unaware about the controversy over smoking?"

Eric Gally of Maryland's Smoke-Free Coalition disagreed. He predicted that many Marylanders will gradually wean themselves from their smoking habit because of the ban.

"They'll smoke less and less and run out of their office building less. They'll become gradually less dependent," Mr. Gally said. "It will lower the nicotine they need to get that fix. This will only happen with some smokers, but every smoker that is helped, it's worth it."

Such a positive outlook is not expected from everyone. Residents argue that the ban will stifle what they say are positive social aspects of cigarette smoking.

Wolfie Floyd, the 29-year-old manager of the 24-hour Nice 'N' Easy carryout shop at Aliceanna Street and Broadway in Fells Point, cringes at the thought of shooing away late-night customers. Many of them, she said, come to her shop to sober up over a cigarette and coffee.

"We've had to pull our ashtrays off the counter," she said, estimating that 80 percent of the store's customers are smokers. "It's too bad, because we get a lot of people who come in to drink their coffee, smoke cigarettes and socialize."

One thing is certain: The issue has polarized emotions.

Said R. C. Strader, 70, who drank a beer and smoked a cigarette with friends at The Friendly Inn near West Friendship: "If anybody comes up to me and tells me to stop smoking, I'll tell them, 'Hitler and Mussolini are dead and you'd better get out of my face.' The way I see it, if you don't like my house, get out."

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