ANNAPOLIS – A Senate panel Friday killed a proposal to make Maryland restaurants and bars smoke free.
The Clean Indoor Air Act of 2004, sponsored by Sen. Ida Ruben, D-Montgomery, was shelved in a 6-5 vote by the Senate Finance Committee. It would have prohibited smoking in all work environments, including restaurants and bars, and would have made Maryland the seventh smoke-free state.
Currently, hospitality employees are the only workers exempted from the state’s smoke-free workplace law.
Supporters packed a Feb. 12 hearing, touting the success of laws in other states, such as New York and Delaware, and lamenting the health problems experienced by workers, including headaches, eye strain and breathing problems.
Opposition came from restaurants and bars who said a ban would hurt business.
The support was not enough to convince the committee to sign on.
Senate Finance Chairman Thomas M. Middleton, D-Charles, lauded the awareness-raising efforts of advocates, but said that change should come from economic pressure.
Middleton, who voted against the bill, said patrons should appeal to the business savvy of restaurant owners, who will bow to consumers demanding smoke-free environments.
“I do recognize that non-smokers have rights and that smokers have rights, and hopefully by bringing economic pressure we can create change and make consumers some options,” said Middleton, acknowledging that non-smokers have few smoke-free choices for dining or working.
Middleton also said he would work in his own district to raise awareness of the issue and encourage businesses to voluntarily go smoke-free.
“We’re going to come back again next year,” said Ruben. “We’re not letting up on this until we pass it. I still believe that people who don’t smoke – 85 percent of Marylanders – are entitled to their health, not just the 15 percent of people who do smoke.”
The bill will help not only workers, Ruben said, but the state’s budget, by reducing Medicaid costs for problems attributed to second-hand smoke exposure.
A similar bill was cross-filed in the House by Delegate Barbara Frush, D-Prince George’s, and is pending in the Health and Government Operations Committee.
A Montgomery County smoking ban took effect in October 2003, prompting a lawsuit from business owners. The owners were unable to stop the ban from taking effect, but they are awaiting a decision by the courts on whether the law can remain. – 30 – CNS-2-20-04