ANNAPOLIS – After a plan to ban smoking in Maryland bars and restaurants failed for the third year, the measure’s co-sponsors vowed again to keep bringing it up until it passes.
Sen. Ida Ruben, D-Montgomery, and Delegate Barbara Frush, D-Prince George’s, said they thought their proposed ban would pass this year — their third attempt, after smoking bans were enacted in New York City, Italy and Ireland. But two committees voted against their identical bills earlier this month, killing the proposal for the year.
Yet Frush and Ruben are unfazed, promising to introduce the bill again next year — when lawmakers are clamoring for re-election.
“We can pull it off next year,” Frush said. “We figure people look differently at things sometimes in election years versus off-years — especially if you hear from voters.”
The Senate Finance Committee defeated the proposal 5-5 on March 7, with Chairman Thomas Middleton, D-Charles, abstaining. The House Health and Government Operations Committee followed suit Tuesday, by a 12-11 vote, with one member citing the Senate panel’s rejection as a prominent reason for its failure.
At hearings, opponents such as the Restaurant Association of Maryland said banning smoking would harm restaurant and bar businesses, especially in border towns and seasonal places.
But the habit of just 15 percent of Marylanders who smoke, Ruben and Hubbard countered, damages the health of other patrons and employees.
Ruben and Frush said the issue is black-and-white: Either you are pro-business or pro-health. They expect pro-health advocates to eventually prevail, but not until voters get behind them.
“I don’t know if it will be an election issue,” Ruben said, “unless people who feel strongly about it make it an election issue.”