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Those against smoking ban say 'butt out'

November 30, 1999|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

Where there's smoke, there's ire.

Health advocates are trying again to extinguish smoking from bars and restaurants, the last Maryland workplaces not covered by a statewide ban.

The fight over secondhand smoke has returned to the Maryland General Assembly in Annapolis.

On Friday, Sen. Robert J. Garagiola, D-Montgomery, filed the Clean Indoor Air Act of 2007.

Del. Barbara A. Frush, D-Anne Arundel/Prince George's, plans to file a House version on Wednesday, according to her office.

Similar bills failed the last three years.

Phil Andrews, a Democratic councilman in Montgomery County, which has a smoking ban, said a statewide version has a better chance under Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat, than former Gov. Robert Ehrlich, a Republican, who didn't support it.

Montgomery County's ban has been largely popular since it started four years ago; restaurants still are succeeding and revenues are increasing, Andrews said.

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Still, not everyone is thrilled by the idea.

Smoking ban opponents

"I don't really see a need for government to dictate how to run our businesses," said Lou Thomas, who owns The Yellow House, a Boonsboro-area bar.

As a businessman, he would react if customers were upset about smoke, said Thomas, who is on the board of directors of Washington County and Maryland restaurant associations.

"I haven't heard any complaints," he said.

The issue has been framed as protection for employees.

A Maryland Occupational Safety and Health prohibition of smoking in almost all workplaces went into effect in 1995.

However, restaurants and bars were excluded, with conditions. Establishments without a liquor license could permit smoking in a separate room. Those with a liquor license could have smoking in a separate room, the bar area or both.

Thomas said his customers expect smoke as part of their social outing. Many join in.

As a worker-protection measure, a smoking ban doesn't make sense at The Yellow House because "quite a few employees smoke," he said.

Friday night in Hagerstown, Heather White of Martinsburg, W.Va., Alex McCoy of Hagerstown, and Angela Zittle of Hagerstown smoked at the bar on a break at Burhans Station, where they work.

Speaking as a smoker and a food and drink patron, "I'm totally against it because we need a place to go, too," McCoy said. "I think it's discrimination ... We're paying customers. Our smoke over here doesn't bother them over there."

Two filters over the bar absorb smoke and clean the air, said Pat Amatucci, one of Burhans Station's owners.

Compromise or prohibition?

Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, whose Health and Government Operations Committee has killed past incarnations of the proposed ban, said he favored the original compromise: Advocacy groups let restaurants and bars install new ventilation systems to avoid a smoking ban.

Nick's Airport Inn and The Grille at Park Circle, for example, paid plenty to retrofit their air-quality systems, Donoghue said.

Dick Roulette, an owner of The Grille at Park Circle, doesn't know how his customers would react to a ban.

An area at the front door is a buffer between the nonsmoking dining room and the smoking-permitted bar.

"Our situation seems to work well," he said. "Both sides of our restaurant are popular."

Back at Burhans Station, local blues guitarist and singer Pete Lancaster said, "I like the smoking atmosphere ... They want to hear live music; they want to smoke ... Everyone gets so stressed these days ? trying to survive, working two jobs. The weekend comes, they cut loose."

In 2002, Ruby Tuesday in Hagerstown voluntarily prohibited smoking, joining Roccoco (which since has a new owner and new name), House of Kobe and the Old South Mountain Inn.

Two months into the ban, Ruby Tuesday's general manager at the time, Carolyn Gelhard, said the restaurant lost an average of six or seven tables of business a night, but the wait for nonsmoking tables decreased.

Asked for an update on Friday, Richard Johnson, a spokesman at Ruby Tuesday's headquarters in Maryville, Tenn., said the company doesn't comment on sales at specific branches. In general, though, the voluntary ban, enacted at branches where customers wanted it, "has not had a negative effect," he said.

Mike Kirkpatrick of Waynesboro, Pa., didn't know Ruby Tuesday was smoke-free as he and his family headed in for dinner Friday night. But it was fine by him ? no one in his family smokes, and his children have asthma, which can be aggravated by smoke.

Health vs. hazard

Although opponents depict the debate as liberty vs. regulation, Garagiola said it's actually health vs. hazard.

"It's one thing if you want to harm your own health," but secondhand smoke hurts others, he said.

"Nonsmokers exposed to secondhand smoke at home or work increase their risk of developing heart disease by 25 to 30 percent and lung cancer by 20 to 30 percent," says a summary of a report U.S. Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona issued in June 2006.

If the same carcinogens came from pipes or a stove, a restaurant would be closed down as a health risk, Andrews said. Besides, he added, smokers are used to stepping outside to smoke.

Montgomery, Prince George's, Talbot, Howard and Charles counties in Maryland have total or partial smoking bans. Baltimore City and Anne Arundel County are considering their own.

Washington, D.C., 16 states and some foreign countries do not allow smoking in restaurants and bars, according to Smoke Free Maryland, a coalition pushing for a ban.

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