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Smokers say ban violates their rights

Washington Co. bars and clubs worry about losing business

Washington Co. bars and clubs worry about losing business

February 01, 2008|By DAN DEARTH

HAGERSTOWN -- It was last call for ashtrays across Maryland on Friday as the state's smoking ban became official in most public places.

Several patrons at local bars and clubs said the state law violated their rights. The ban was passed last year by the Maryland General Assembly.

"If I want to smoke these cigarettes, it's my business," Larry McMillan said as he drank coffee Friday at The New Del-Mar Inn off U.S. 40 in Hagerstown. "In my book, they're taking a person's rights away. ... They're telling me how to live."

Henry Nigh, manager of the establishment, said he thought the ban would hurt business because about 80 percent of his customers are smokers.

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Nigh said five people from West Virginia came into the bar Friday and left as soon as they were told about the smoking ban.

"I think it's terrible," Nigh said. "They don't do it in Pennsylvania or West Virginia. Why do they want to do it here? They will get carryout and go home where they can smoke. They aren't going to go outside in zero-degree weather."

Business owners who show the ban has caused undue financial burden for two consecutive months may apply for a waiver. If the claims are deemed legitimate, health officials could give the businesses an additional three years to comply.

Nigh said he was concerned some customers might try to sneak a cigarette in the restroom. If that happens, the owner could be held responsible, he said.

According to the law, the owners of businesses who violate the ban are subject to a written reprimand on the first offense, a $100 fine on the second offense, a $500 fine on the third offense and a $1,000 fine on each subsequent offense. Local health departments will enforce the law.

The smoking ban targeted bars and restaurants primarily to protect waitresses, according to information from the Maryland Clean Indoor Air Act. Waitresses have the highest rate of lung and heart disease among traditionally female occupational groups.

One eight-hour shift in a smoky bar is the equivalent of smoking 16 cigarettes per day, according to the act.

At least one Hagerstown bar wasn't affected by the ban.

Duffy's on Potomac hasn't allowed smoking since the business opened last year, manager Eric Pinchak said.

"Our clients are used to it," Pinchak said. "(The ban) won't ruffle any feathers; ... it has never been an issue."

At the American Legion on Northern Avenue, employees retired the ashtrays Thursday at 10 p.m., when the club closed for the evening, bar manager Dawn Young said.

Young said most of the club's members oppose the ban, even if they don't smoke. It is the feeling that American Legionnaires, many of whom served in the military, shouldn't be prohibited from smoking, she said.

"You're telling them they can't smoke in their own club," Young said. "It's not right. The government - the state of Maryland - is taking away our rights."

At the very least, bars and clubs should have the right to designate indoor smoking areas so people don't have to stand outside if they want to smoke, said Randy Stouffer, an American Legion member and smoker for 25 years.

"I understand the state can do what it needs to do," he said. "I don't feel it's fair, but que sera, sera."

Where is smoking banned?




The Maryland smoking ban will affect the following places:

· Indoor areas open to the public

· Indoor meeting places open to the public

· Indoor places of employment

· Mass transit vehicles

· Private homes or residences being used by a licensed day-care or child-care provider

· Private vehicles used for the public transportation of children or as part of health-care or day-care transportation

· Clubs with alcohol licenses

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