Bar owners fight anti-smoking law

February 13, 2004|by LAURA ERNDE

When Maryland increased its tobacco tax two years ago, cigarette sales at Old Orchard Liquor Store in Halfway dropped 25 percent, store owner Jay Binau said.

Bar owners fear the same could happen if the state bans smoking in their establishments, he said.

Binau, who is president of the Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association, was in Annapolis on Thursday to fight the proposed ban.

The association is going up against anti-smoking advocates such as the American Lung Association and Smoke Free Maryland, who are pushing hard for a ban similar to those in place in six other states, including Delaware and New York.


A contingent of supporters, including restaurant and bar employees, made their case before the Senate Finance Committee on Thursday.

"As a legislature, we have a responsibility to protect the workers in this state," said Sen. Ida Ruben, D-Montgomery, the bill's lead sponsor. "Don't wait 'til this life-threatening carcinogen kills more people."

Supporters of the ban cited a December poll that found support for the ban among 67 percent of registered Maryland voters.

New York City restaurant owner Mike O'Neal testified that his business increased when smoking was banned from restaurants in 1995 and bars last March.

Those statistics contradicted those offered by Binau, who said Delaware slots parlors lost 22 percent of their business after a ban went into effect there.

"If everybody loses 22 percent, that's tough," he said.

Ruben and other advocates argued that the health of bar and restaurant employees is more important than money.

Also, Ruben said the ban could save money by reducing health-care costs in the long run.

One local lawmaker serves on the Finance Committee. Sen. John J. Hafer, R-Garrett/Allegany/Washington, could not be reached for comment after the hearing.

Last year, the committee defeated the bill. Its chairman, Sen. Thomas Middleton, is a Democrat from Charles County, where tobacco farms are plentiful.

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