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Starting Friday, no more smoking in Md. restaurants, bars

January 31, 2008

ANNAPOLIS (AP) -- Smokers savored their last cigarettes in Maryland bars and restaurants Thursday as many nonsmokers cheered the approaching statewide smoking ban that will soon be clearing the air.

The ban, which officially takes effect Friday, requires Maryland businesses to prohibit smoking in indoor areas open to the public.

"The bottom line here is this protects the health of the workers and it protects the health of the consumer," said John Hammond, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Many smokers aren't happy, though. Amid the smoky haze of Galway Bay, an Irish bar just blocks from the State House where the ban was passed last year, Dwight Wilcox taps out his pipe and criticizes lawmakers for unfairly infringing on property owners' rights.

"These people have no business telling a property owner how to run their freakin' business," Wilcox said, reflecting on what a bummer it will be not to be able to smoke in a neighborhood bar, which many customers facetiously describe as an extension of their living rooms.

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Owner Fintan Galway said he is hopeful the ban will bring in more customers who used to avoid bars because of their smoky atmosphere. But Galway also said he is concerned about losing regulars to bars with patios, where people will still be able to drink, socialize and smoke.

"I think it's optimism tinged with uncertainty," Galway said, describing his view of how the ban could affect his business.

Many Maryland residents are elated at the prospect of not having to breathe second-hand smoke. Supporters of the ban also won't miss coming home with smoke-stenched clothing after a night on the town.

Sen. Jennie Forehand, D-Montgomery, recalled her first days in Annapolis about 30 years ago, when smoking was allowed in committee rooms and even the Senate and House chambers. She remembered hiding ash trays in the House Appropriations Committee several times, and each time someone replaced them. A state trooper even went looking in her office after she became a suspect for hiding the ash trays, she said.

"It's been a long time coming," said Forehand, whose father worked in a smoky workplace and died from emphysema and lung cancer, even though he never smoked.

Every business must post no-smoking signs, under the regulations.

Smoking will still be allowed outside an establishment. However, businesses that create alternative smoking spots such as outside tents or shelters must be sure the areas are open enough to the outdoors.

Private cars where children are publicly transported or day care and health care vehicles must also be smoke-free under the ban.

The regulations also prohibit smoking in private clubs with liquor licenses and in mass transit vehicles.

Businesses can receive a waiver if they can prove that they have lost 15 percent or more of sales directly as a result of the smoking ban. All waivers expire in February of 2011.

Dr. Clifford Mitchell, director of environmental health coordination at the Maryland Department of Health and Human Hygiene, said an average of about 100 businesses have been calling a week recently to ask about how to comply with the ban. Mitchell said he's anticipating that about 99 percent of affected businesses will be able to comply.

"The good news is we've modeled this after several jurisdictions that have done this, and in addition we've tried to put out a lot of information," Mitchell said.

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