- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Maryland legislators and activists called yesterday for legislation to ban smoking in bars and restaurants.

“It is most important for health,” said Sen. Ida G. Ruben, Democrat Montgomery. “Secondhand smoke kills about 53,000 people in this country and 2,000 in Maryland every year.”

Mrs. Ruben, joined by Delegate Barbara A. Frush, Anne Arundel and Prince George’s Democrat, said they would redouble efforts to pass the bill, which would be patterned after one in Delaware.

“Eight-five percent of the people in this state do not smoke,” Mrs. Ruben said. “A small potion of our constituency does, and we are going to allow them to destroy the health of our other constituents?”

Michael Schwartzberg, a spokesman for Smoke Free Maryland and the American Cancer Society, said secondhand smoke was a “pervasive danger” and the “third leading cause of preventable death in the United States.”

“We don’t allow rats in our kitchen because it is not healthy, and this is no different, so why should someone be allowed to blow 50 deadly chemicals into my face as I am trying to enjoy dinner?” he asked.

If Maryland legislators adopt such a ban, they would follow states such as California, Delaware, Maine and Massachusetts.

Montgomery County adopted an antismoking law in October that is the strictest in the state.

Howard County allows smoking only in enclosed bars. The District, Baltimore and Anne Arundel County are considering similar bans.

Melvin Thompson, vice president of government relations for the Restaurant Association of Maryland, said Montgomery County restaurants are experiencing 30 to 50 percent losses and that two restaurants have closed as result of the ban.

“If lawmakers in Annapolis want to know the true affect of the smoking ban, then they need not look any further than Montgomery County,” Mr. Thompson said. “What kind of leaders don’t know what is going on in their own back yard? The kinds of places that are going out of business, because of their smoking ban, are the kinds of places that smoking-ban proponents would never patronize anyway.”

Mr. Schwartzberg said Mr. Thompson has inflated the numbers in favor of the tobacco companies.

“We have studies that say does not close restaurants and bars,” Mr. Schwartzberg said. “And all of our studies are independent.

“Restaurants don’t close because you cannot smoke. We are not saying to ban smoking, what we are saying is smokers’ perceived rights end where a nonsmoker’s nose and lungs begin.”

Mrs. Ruben agreed and said more restaurants are opening everyday in New York since the ban and are “swarming with people.”

She also said restaurants close because of the economy, not the smoking ban.

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