Put 'em out

If the smoking ban on Harford County government properties applies to parks and recreation ball fields, there's no reason why it can't apply to the County Courthouse, official excuses notwithstanding.

Beginning Jan. 1, smoking on county property was banned, a move that came as welcome news for anyone — government employees and members of the general public alike — who has been subjected to secondhand smoke while trying to run the siege line of smokers standing outside various county government buildings.

That's not the case, however, for official reasons that don't seem to make a lot of sense. Officially, while smoking is banned at the Harford County Parks and Recreation pavilion in Forest Hill, it's perfectly OK on the grounds of the County Courthouse, notably along Courtland and Office streets, as well as on the open area along Main Street.

The issue of smokers gathering outside buildings has been a sticky one since smoking inside public buildings in Maryland was banned several years ago. Even before that, many institutions, notably hospitals, banned indoor smoking, resulting in swarms of smokers standing just outside puffing away. Hospitals in particular saw this as a major problem. It just didn't make sense to have an institution that has a philosophical reason to be against smoking have a bunch of smokers standing outside at just about any time of the day or night. Thus smoking on many hospital properties was banned even before indoor smoking was officially banned in public buildings.

Confusion was the main reason given for allowing an exception to the county government property smoking ban for the courthouse. It's a flimsy reason. While smoking is officially allowed across Bond Street on the state government property of the Mary E.W. Risteau State Office Building (home of Harford County District Court), it is across the street. It's no different than being obliged to leave a park before lighting up.

Another point of confusion is even more ridiculous: that smoking needs to be allowed after hours and on weekends during outdoor courthouse area events like First Fridays. This is phony in the extreme. Smoking should be banned especially during such events. After all, the whole point of banning smoking is to protect non-smokers from falling victim to the vice of smokers courtesy of secondhand smoke. Secondhand smoke is just as dangerous at First Fridays as it is midday Wednesday during the courthouse lunch break.

As a matter of public policy, smoking should be banned on all government properties, local, state and federal, so non-smokers aren't subjected to the health hazards of secondhand smoke. While there may be room for a few exceptions, such exceptions should be extremely limited and permitted only in instances where the general non-smoking public isn't put in harm's way.

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