- The Washington Times - Monday, October 1, 2007

ANNAPOLIS (AP) — Think all bars and restaurants in Maryland will be forced to ban smoking next year? Not necessarily.

Theres a loophole in the law that lets some owners continue to allow smoking for a limited time if they can prove that their establishments will be unduly harmed by a ban.

The question is, how hard will it be for bars to qualify?

As the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene puts finishing touches on the regulations, health advocates expect the loophole to be so small that few bars and restaurants will qualify.

“We think its going to be extremely rare,” said Eric Gally, a lobbyist whose clients include the American Heart Association and the American Cancer Society.

Instead of arguing that their business may suffer from a smoking ban, bar owners likely will have to ban smoking, then prove their business dropped, Mr. Gally said.

“Were thrilled” with the direction of the regulations, he said.

Many bars and restaurant owners say theyve accepted that the ban is coming and do not plan to file for exemptions.

At Canvasback Restaurant & Pub in Cambridge, owners plan to build an adjoining cigar bar where smoking would be allowed, rather than attempt to win a waiver from the state.

“Id say probably 60 percent of our customers are smokers that come to the bar, so its an issue,” said Connie Ewing, an assistant to Canvasbacks owners.

“Just hearing casual bar conversation, Ive heard people upset about it.”

Miss Ewing also said the cigar bar would be “a little members-only Havana Club where we sell cigars” that would be next door to the main establishment and have a separate entrance.

Ellicott Mills Brewing Company in Ellicott City banned smoking in June, when Howard County required it. Manager Dwayne Bouvere said the bar does not plan to seek a waiver, although he thinks the ban has hurt business.

“We used to have regular customers that came in and had a beer and a cigarette,” he said. “Unfortunately, a lot of them have not come back.”

Bonita Pennino, government relations director for the Maryland chapter of the American Cancer Society, expects the waivers to be tough to get, but unnecessary once bar owners try banning smoking.

“Theyll recognize within those first few months that their business is not going to be hurt,” she said.

The draft of the smoking regulations will be published Oct. 12, with a public-comment period before theyre made final, said Department of Health and Mental Hygiene spokesman John Hammond.

The smoking ban is not the only state law coming into focus in October. Many laws passed by the General Assembly have Oct. 1 effective dates, and dozens become law today.

The new laws include tougher penalties for people convicted of sex crimes against children. The law, a favorite of Republicans in the legislature, removes the option of parole for people already serving 25-year mandatory sentences for sex offenses or rape of children.

“It is a major victory for public safety in the state of Maryland,” said Delegate Christopher B. Shank, Western Maryland Republican who sponsored the House version of the bill. Sen. Nancy Jacobs, the Senate sponsor, wants to make the penalties even tougher next year.

“We need to send a message to sexual predators that there is no tolerance for that sort of thing in our society,” said Mrs. Jacobs, Cecil and Harford counties Republican.

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