ANNAPOLIS – The cost of secondhand smoke in Maryland amounted to nearly $600 million in visits to doctors and hospitals and costs associated with premature death in 2005, according to a new study by researchers at Johns Hopkins University.
The study, which was conducted by Johns Hopkins economist Hugh Waters was designed, in part, to counter claims from bar and restaurant owners that a proposed ban on smoking would have a large negative impact throughout the state.
“We know that exposure to secondhand smoke is linked to [many] diseases. There’s no doubt about that,” Waters told a press conference Tuesday. “And we know that these diseases carry a very substantial price tag.”
Waters said employees of bars and restaurants are more exposed to secondhand smoke than any other profession and expressed his support for legislation to ban smoking in bars and restaurants statewide.
Still, many bar and restaurant owners remained unconvinced of the need for a complete ban.
“For bars and restaurants that rely heavily on liquor and beer sales, a ban will be devastating,” said Ron Furman, owner of Max’s in Baltimore, during a hearing on the legislation before a House committee.
“Their clientele consist of retired vets, working class folks who just come in to drink a Bud and smoke a Pall Mall,” he said. “They’re not the crowd that will stand outside to have a smoke then go back in and finish their beer.”
In a meeting of the House Health and Government Operations Committee, some workers and owners of bars and restaurants in Maryland testified in support of the bill, while others said it spelled disaster for the state’s hospitality industry.
Waters said at the press conference that the $600 million figure was “conservative” because it did not account for outpatient costs, pharmacy costs or lost revenue due to illness.
He also said the study did not include costs related to some medical conditions linked with secondhand smoke, including spontaneous abortions or perinatal morality.
Though the study focused on the financial effects of secondhand smoke in bars and restaurants, Waters said these figures alone could not express all of the cost.
“I’m an economist, but I wouldn’t say that you can measure the entire cost . . . in economic terms. There’s a real human value,” he said.
Waters estimated that over 1,600 Marylanders died as a direct result of secondhand smoke last year.
He calculated the costs of secondhand smoke to all affected parties, including persons with the medical condition, third parties assisting those people and society as a whole.
Sen. Ida G. Ruben, D – Montgomery, who is sponsoring the bill in the Senate said a statewide ban on smoking in restaurants and bars would help all Marylanders financially.
“If we did enact the legislation, we could curtail the costs of people needing coverage by Medicaid,” Ruben said. “All of this translates to our taxpayers, who have to foot the bill for all these people that become ill.”
Eleven states now have smoking bans similar to Maryland’s proposed legislation and the Virginia Senate narrowly passed a ban on smoking in restaurants Monday, though the bill still faces a serious challenge in the House.
Though smoking ban supporters have failed in three previous attempts, they are optimistic about their chances this year because the bill will first go through the House, instead of the Senate, where it has had difficulty making it out of the Senate Finance Committee.
Supporters also note the increasing support the bill has received. “It’s like a snowball and it just keeps building and building,” said Delegate Barbara A. Frush, D – Prince George’s, sponsor of the House version of the smoking ban. “It’s an election year. This is a very good vote.”