ANNAPOLIS – Maryland’s new workplace smoking law got some legal teeth Wednesday, though no one got bitten by fines.
Those who violate the law — which prohibits smoking in most indoor workplaces with two or more employees — faced fines of up to $7,000 as a six-month grace period expired.
But for many workers and businesses, compliance has already become old hat. Standing outside the door for a smoke, sometimes with co-workers, has become a routine, albeit an inconvenient one when the weather’s bad.
“We’ve had no smoking in our office since April 1991,” said Joanne Beck, standing a stone’s throw from the door of Farmer’s National Bank, where she is a trust officer. The change was initiated at the request of non-smoking employees and customers, she added.
A few blocks away, employees of Deziner’s Hair Salon also were taking a smoke break at the curb.
“We quit smoking [inside] four years ago. Our clients don’t like it…. Many are non-smokers or have allergies,” stylist Alexander Westmoreland said. “So we’re used to it.”
Since the law took effect six months ago, the 60 or so Maryland Occupational Safety and Health inspectors who enforce it have focused on educating possible violators.
“We are working with businesses to bring them into compliance because this is something that the people of Maryland wanted,” said Karen Napolitano, a spokesperson for the state Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation.
Though the grace period has now ended, Napolitano said the enforcement focus will remain the same, with the exception of serious violators who have been repeatedly warned.
“It’s not like: `Now we’re going to go out with our guns blazing.’ Our objective is not to fine people for thousands and thousands of dollars,” Napolitano said.
Since the law took effect, the department has logged about 100 formal complaints, conducted 29 site inspections and issued 16 violation notices, said Carolyn West, a Maryland Occupational and Safety and Health official. No fines were levied Wednesday, she said.
Enforcement usually follows an employee complaint, although some come from citizens, anonymously or otherwise. Most citizen complaints occur after business owners fail to respond to informal complaints, West said.
At Neal’s Garage in Annapolis, mechanics sat at the lunch table smoking, apparently unruffled by the new law or possible fines. All four employees are smokers, so no one’s complaining.
“We run exhaust out of these vehicles that’s worse for you than smoking” — not to mention all the other kinds of chemicals, paint and fumes around, said Buddy Winemiller, a paint and body mechanic.
As a three-pack a day smoker, he has no intention of stepping outside for any regulation, he said. He proudly showed off a sign on his tool box. “Smokers light up and enjoy,” it read.
“Trying to legislate an addiction,” Winemiller warned, “you can’t do that.” -30-