ANNAPOLIS – Calling working in smoky pubs a “death penalty,” Sen. Ida Ruben, D-Montgomery, tried to persuade colleagues to pass her bill banning all public smoking.
The Maryland Clean Indoor Air Act expands a 1995 regulation, which banned smoking in most public places, but exempted bars and restaurants. Ruben’s bill would end that exemption.
The bill’s main goal is protect all workers employed in these settings from secondhand smoke, which is the third-leading cause of preventable death and results in the death of over 1,000 nonsmokers in Maryland each year, according to the American Lung Association of Maryland.
“This bill will provide reprieve to some individuals from a death penalty – secondhand smoke,” said Ruben.
“If you don’t smoke, you don’t deserve that kind of health problem,” said Delegate Barbara Frush, D-Prince George’s, sponsor of an identical House bill.
But a tobacco industry lobbyist took the sponsors to task for violating an agreement that produced the original law.
Many restaurant owners built separate smoking levels and areas in response to the 1995 law, said lobbyist Bruce Bereano. This bill discounts their efforts, he said.
The ban also would hurt businesses in Maryland, the legislation’s opponents said.
However, in a surprise move, the Restaurant Association of Maryland supported the bill, provided the law applies to “all places of assembly throughout the state of Maryland, without exclusion or exception.”
Bo Hardesty, owner of Narrows restaurant on the Eastern Shore, said his restaurant has been open 20 years, and last May it became entirely nonsmoking.
“In the eight months since we went smoke free, my sales increased 2 percent. I didn’t lose any ground,” said Hardesty. “There was no drop off at the bar, we don’t see certain people, but we have new faces to replace the old.”
Employees and patrons wanted the change, he said, and it was only a matter of time before litigation was brought on by bar employees.
“The abundance of secondhand smoke I am exposed to is the only reason I ever seriously thought about looking for a better job,” said Denise Bellows, a 20-year-old public health major at the University of Maryland, who works as a waitress at a local bar/restaurant.
Bellows testified she often leaves work with a sore throat, headaches, a slight cough, cigarette burns, and smelly clothes and hair.
Bereano discounted that argument as well.
“No one is forced to work in these places . . . bartenders and waitresses work there voluntarily. They are not forced. That argument is absurd,” said Bereano. “Stop pushing Marylanders to stop smoking. The government needs to stop imposing its will on people. Cigarettes are sold legally and lawfully.”
The government is hypocritical, he said.
“They tax cigarettes and the revenues are used to run the state government.” They want people to buy the product and make money for the government, but don’t want them to smoke, Bereano said.
Ruben petitioned the committee to resist the temptation to listen to the tobacco lobby.
“The tobacco companies have not been forthcoming about the effects of tobacco in the past,” Ruben said.
Other states have passed similar laws, and many states are currently working on similar bills.
Most recently, Delaware approved a smoking ban last November. Sen. David McBride, who represents New Castle in Delaware’s General Assembly, testified before the committee on the law’s success in his state.