ANNAPOLIS – As Gov. Parris N. Glendening began signing Maryland’s newest laws into being this week, tobacco supporters and opponents gave mixed reviews to the 1995 legislative session.
Most said they could live with the compromise on the statewide workplace smoking ban, the result of emergency legislation amending Glendening’s original plan to ban smoking in all indoor work places. But representatives of both sides warned that they’d seek changes in 1996.
The ban, which drew media attention nationwide, was the only smoking legislation that passed.
“When the gavel banged [Monday] night, we were a lot better off than we were a couple of years ago,” said Eric Gally, president of Smoke Free Maryland.
But Gally, who also represents the Maryland division of the American Cancer Society, added that “the safest thing to say is that we have tremendous mixed feelings.” Gally was disappointed that the ban was watered down to exempt bars and restaurants and that all other anti-smoking legislation failed. He said efforts are forthcoming to get the exemptions lifted.
Bruce Bereano, lobbyist for the Maryland Association of Candy and Tobacco Distributors, said his clients were glad for the amendments, but “continue very strongly to oppose the regulatory ban.” Efforts to seek rollbacks have not been discussed, Bereano said.
Bill Pitcher, lobbyist for the Tobacco Institute, said a number of businesses that were too late in their requests to be included in the ban’s exemptions will try next year.
“Bowling alleys, truck stops, bingo halls…. I’ve heard from them,” Pitcher said.
First-year state Health Secretary Martin P. Wasserman said the “excitement around tobacco fit in well” with Maryland’s first cancer incidence report, which found that many of Maryland’s cancer cases are the result of lifestyle choices such as smoking.
Describing the smoking compromise as one of the legislature’s “premiere pieces” of work, Wasserman said he was disappointed that lawmakers didn’t pass bills designed to curb minors’ access to cigarette vending machines. In addition to aiding smokers to start at younger ages, failure to take such steps has jeopardized some $24 million in federal substance abuse grants.
Gally elaborated: “By rejecting federal requests that [Maryland] fight minors’ access,” he said, “what the General Assembly has said to the federal government is, `We want you to keep sending us federal aid to get people off of addictive substances, but we’re not willing to do anything to keep people from getting started on those substances.'”
Gally expects to renew the fight next session.
Wasserman added that he was excited about several other health-related bills:
– A measure requiring surgical facilities not located within hospitals to be licensed by the health secretary.
– A bill guaranteeing increases in local health department funding.
– The Patient Access Act, allowing patients to select a physician not practicing within a health maintenance organization, if the patient pays any extra costs.
– A bill allowing optometrists to use medication as part of diagnosing a patient’s condition.
– A medical assistance program allowing the department to place poor patients into facilities they might otherwise be turned away from.
– A bill requiring bike riders under 16 to wear safety helmets.
In addition, Mike Golden, spokesman for the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, said his department supported a bill making it illegal for nursing homes to put out patients who have no place to go.
“It’s good that it’s available,” Golden said, although he said such evictions were not common. Wasserman said he expects Glendening to sign all of the bills. -30-