- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 27, 2007

ANNAPOLIS — A statewide smoking ban is likely now that Baltimore has passed one, top lawmakers said yesterday.

A vote Monday night by the Baltimore City Council to ban smoking in bars and restaurants starting next year will mean that about half of the state’s population will live in areas that ban all indoor smoking in public places.

“It’s a quality-of-life issue,” said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. “It makes sense to have a uniform law on this subject.”

House Speaker Michael E. Busch, a fellow Democrat, agreed.

“I think it takes away the argument when you have these major jurisdictions — Prince George’s County, Montgomery County and now Baltimore city — do it, that it’s bad for business,” Mr. Busch said.

Both chambers have pending bills that would ban smoking statewide. The House will consider a ban March 7; the Senate has not set a date.

Baltimore’s approval means five jurisdictions will ban smoking by next year — the three mentioned by Mr. Busch plus Howard and Charles counties. And Anne Arundel County officials have said they may consider a ban if the state doesn’t pass one first.

Anti-smoking forces say it is inevitable that smoking in bars is going out; the question is who will ban it and when.

“They passed it in Baltimore, and now the state’s got to do it,” said Delegate Ruth Kirk, Baltimore Democrat, who is on the House committee that will consider a statewide ban.

Those who oppose a ban hope Baltimore’s approval will make it less likely the state will act.

Melvin Thompson of the Maryland Restaurant Association, which opposes bans, said yesterday that the question should be left up to cities.

“There’s really no need to do it on a statewide level,” Mr. Thompson said.

“When they first started talking about a smoking ban, we said, ‘Tomorrow it’ll be french fries, burgers and fatty foods.’ And they said, ‘No, no, no!’ And here we are.”

Yet yesterday Mr. Thompson was in Annapolis testifying against a statewide ban on trans fat in restaurant cooking. He called both examples of government meddling in restaurants’ business.

The lawmakers who run committees in both chambers said it was too soon to conclude a state smoking ban is going to pass this session. But they conceded the matter has become more pressing after Baltimore’s ban.

“I think right now the best way to characterize it is, the bill’s fate is uncertain,” said Delegate Dereck Davis, Prince George’s Democrat, who leads the House Economic Matters Committee.

In the Senate, Finance Committee Chairman Sen. Thomas “Mac” Middleton said his committee is divided on the question. He said he wanted to make sure a statewide ban would pass the full Senate before his committee acts.

“I’m not willing to let a bill come out and have it come out to the floor to let it die,” the Charles County Democrat said.

Kari Appler, director of Smoke Free Maryland, said the Baltimore decision makes lobbying more intense for a statewide ban.

“It doesn’t let the state legislators off the hook,” she said.

Gov. Martin O’Malley would sign a ban into law if one passed, spokesman Rick Abbruzzese said.

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