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Council fails to back anti-smoking bill


Where there's smoke, there are cigarettes -- especially when it comes to the combustible debate surrounding a proposed statewide smoking ban.

The Baltimore City Council offered a glimpse this week of the battle expected to play out as Annapolis lawmakers consider the Clean Indoor Air Act of 2004 during a Senate Finance Committee hearing today.

Last year's bill died during a similar finance committee hearing. Judging by the council's reception of the ban, this year's version may face a hard time, too.

On Monday, the council rejected a resolution to express its support for the ban against indoor smoking in public and workplaces proposed in House Bill 260 and Senate Bill 140. Yet the council overwhelmingly approved a show of support for last year's state measure.

Why the change of heart?

"The tobacco industry is doing its work," said Duncan Munro, legislative aide to Del. Barbara Frush, a Prince George's Democrat and co-sponsor of the House bill.

Council members who voted against supporting the state bill said they wanted to study the economic impacts of such a ban before supporting it. A council hearing is scheduled Wednesday to do just that.

Councilman Robert W. Curran introduced a resolution Monday for immediate adoption to offer the council's support of the state legislation. Several council members wanted to wait until a hearing next week aimed at studying the economic impacts of a state ban.

"There's not enough information to make a truly informed decision," said Councilwoman Helen L. Holton.

At Monday's council meeting, Curran accused his colleagues of being against clean air. He intends to reintroduce his resolution and vows to pack next week's council hearing with anti-smoking advocates.

"Needless to say, the vote disappoints me, and I am invigorated to reverse it," Curran wrote in a letter Tuesday to anti-smoking advocates. "Tobacco proponents may see this defeat as a harbinger of a trend away from smoking prohibition."

In his letter to the Baltimore City Tobacco Community Health Coalition, Curran wrote: "Your presence would send a strong message of outrage at the apathy or lack of concern about the real dangers of second hand smoking and lives needlessly lost."

During the meeting, Curran and Councilman Kwame Osayaba Abayomi related stories about relatives who had died from cancer caused by smoking.

"My mom died of all sorts of cancers because she lived in a house of men who all smoked and she didn't," Abayomi said.

The council defeated Curran's resolution to support the state bill by a 9-6 vote with three abstentions and one member absent. Council members who supported the measure were: Abayomi, Curran, Nicholas C. D'Adamo Jr., Kenneth N. Harris Sr., Catherine E. Pugh and Melvin L. Stukes.

Those who voted against it were: President Sheila Dixon, John L. Cain, Paula Johnson Branch, Pamela V. Carter, Lisa Joi Stancil, Holton, Stephanie C. Rawlings Blake, Rochelle "Rikki" Spector and Edward L. Reisinger. Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr., Bernard C. "Jack" Young and Agnes Welch passed; Lois A. Garey was absent.

Many members rejected the notion that tobacco lobbyists had influenced the council.

Two council members -- Mitchell and Young -- received tickets to a Washington Wizards game last year from Philip Morris Co. They said the tickets had no influence, and that they want to first hear evidence on a ban's economic impact.

"For a lot of the bars and restaurants in my district, this is a huge issue," Mitchell said. "I feel there should be a hearing first."

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