- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 11, 2007

BALTIMORE — Two lawmakers yesterday proposed a statewide ban on smoking in bars and restaurants.

Similar efforts have failed in the General Assembly the past four years, in part because of resistance from Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., Calvert and Prince George’s Democrat.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Rob Garagiola, Montgomery County Democrat, and Delegate Barbara Frush, Prince George’s County Democrat, would extend to bar and restaurant employees the protections against smoking in the workplace guaranteed to all other Maryland workers.

“We’ve had a regulation in place since 1995 that protects most workplaces, with the exception of bars and restaurants,” said Kari Appler, executive director of Smoke Free Maryland. “This legislation is attempting to close that loophole.”

Mr. Miller’s chief of staff, Vicki Gruber, did not return a telephone message seeking comment, but Mr. Garagiola predicted that the bill would reach the governor’s desk with or without Mr. Miller’s support.

“The Senate president is well aware that I’m working on this,” he said. “I didn’t ask him if I was going to get his vote. The will of the body, I think, will prevail at the end of the day.”

Sixteen states and 250 local jurisdictions have mandated smoke-free pubs and eateries, said supporters of a ban. Those localities include five Maryland counties: Charles, Howard, Montgomery, Prince George’s and Talbot.

Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold, a Republican, on Wednesday proposed a countywide smoking ban to spur a statewide ban. County Council Chairman Ronald C. Dillon Jr., a Republican, said the council would not consider Mr. Leopold’s bill until after state lawmakers take up the issue.

Mr. Leopold attended the press conference yesterday in Annapolis announcing the state bill.

The Baltimore City Council also is considering a ban.

This year, advocates for smoke-free restaurants are citing a study released last summer by the surgeon general’s office, which concluded that separate smoking areas, even the best ventilated ones, don’t protect adequately against the dangers of secondhand smoke.

Maryland allows smoking only in designated areas or in separately enclosed rooms.

The Restaurant Association of Maryland thinks the existing law strikes a balance between providing comfort for diners and protecting bar owners who rely heavily on alcoholic beverage sales.

“Smoking policies should be determined by business owners and their customers, not by the government,” the association said.

Advocates for smoke-free restaurants have tried to counter the association’s arguments by recruiting restaurant workers and owners to their cause.

“Smokers, generally, in my years of experience … drink more, so they do tend to spend a little bit more money, and they do generally tip higher,” said Dana Koteen, a server at Roy’s, a nonsmoking restaurant in downtown Baltimore. “But the health risk alone devalues any extra $5 or $10 that you might make off table No. 1, because you’re going to pay for it later.”

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