- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 19, 2005

ANNAPOLIS (AP) — A debate over the rights of smokers, the health of waiters and entertainers, and the economic interests of the restaurant industry will soon play out in the legislature when anti-smoking groups renew a push for a ban on smoking in bars and restaurants.

Smoking opponents hope to get a boost from their recent success in Prince George’s County, where the county council approved getting a ban. With similar laws already in place in Montgomery and Talbot counties, almost one-third of Marylanders will live in counties with smoke-free bars and restaurants when the Prince George’s law takes effect Jan. 1.

The battle over smoke-free bars pits health care groups and smoking opponents against the tobacco industry and the Restaurant Association of Maryland, which argues that a statewide ban would create a hardship for bar owners who rely heavily on alcoholic beverage sales.

“I think chances of the bill passing are excellent,” said Kari Appler, executive director of the Smoke Free Maryland Coalition. But the coalition was unsuccessful the past three years, and smoking opponents will face significant hurdles when the General Assembly convenes in January.

Supporters of a ban have lobbied Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., Calvert and Prince George’s Democrat, to use his influence to secure passage in the Senate, where the measure died last year on a tie vote in the Finance Committee.

Finance Committee Chairman Thomas M. Middleton, Charles County Democrat, said he doesn’t know what his committee will do this year and that he will wait to see what happens in the House before bringing it up for a vote, since his committee took up the issue first this year.

Maryland was in the forefront of the national anti-smoking movement in 1994 when then-Gov. William Donald Schaefer, a Democrat, banned smoking in most public places, using workplace safety regulations to bypass the legislature. Worried that lawmakers might overturn the regulations if they went too far, the administration allowed bars and restaurants with liquor licenses to maintain smoking sections.

But Maryland health groups emboldened by the subsequent success of anti-smoking forces nationally — nine states and many counties and cities now require smoke-free bars and restaurants — want to repeal the exemption, saying people who work in bars and restaurants deserve the same protection as other Maryland workers.

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