Smoking Ban Approved, But Area Proprietors Question Fairness

The legislation makes Maryland the 20th state to put laws
similar to this on their books, something many business owners in the resort
area said they have been expecting to happen. Knowing it would eventually pass,
some proprietors were beginning to accept the Clean Air Indoor Act since it
would blanket the entire state, making it a fair playing field in the
restaurant industry.

However, now that the actual piece of legislation has been
written and accepted, there seems to be no mention of enforcement concerning
outside dining at establishments.

The legislation reads, “It is the intent of the General
Assembly that the State protect the public and employees from involuntary
exposure to environmental tobacco smoke in indoor areas open to the public,
indoor places of employment, and certain designated private areas.”

It goes on to focus on indoor areas without any mention of
outdoor areas where the public may gather to dine, a popular way to enjoy a
meal in Ocean City.

Now all those owners who were against the act but accepted
the fact it would have an equal effect across the board are upset at the fact
that those businesses without the luxury of having outside dining might become
the low man on the totem pole, especially during the summer.

Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association Executive
Director Susan Jones agreed that outside dining now seems to be a gray area and
said if local owners’ fears ring true, the bill is certainly unfair.

“I would imagine there is going to be a whole lot of
questions concerning how to interpret the bill,” she said.

As for the legislation finally passing, she said she was
not surprised since it has been gaining momentum in years past. She also said
the bar/lounge type establishments will most likely see an impact in their
business but believes the exemption waiver owners can apply for included as
part of the bill is a step in the right direction.

“I think that makes it more fair for those who may be
affected more,” she said. “It’s a solid attempt at being business friendly. It
shows on their part that they are looking at the economics of it.”

Delegate Jim Mathias acknowledged there’s nothing in the
bill to prohibit outside dining establishments from allowing smoking once the
bill goes into effect in February 2008.

 “The bill as
written does not prohibit smoking in outdoor, open spaces,” he explained. “I
know that causes some problems for some, but that’s why there is a waiver. I’m
not entirely certain what the criteria is for that, but if some businesses have
a problem, they should jump right on that.”

Melvin Thompson, vice president of government relations
for the Maryland Restaurant Association, said the legislation leaves smoking in
outside areas up to the discretion of the local municipalities.

“It still retains language to allow local legislations to
be more stringent with their own laws,” he said.

Thompson went on to give examples of Howard and Charles
counties where smoking bans there place a limit on how far one must be from an
entrance to an establishment in order to light up, thus effectively making
outside dining smoke-free as well.

Concerning the waiver, Doug “Buxy” Buxbaum, owner of Buxy’s
Salty Dog Saloon, said he is unsure if he will apply for the waiver at this
time since he is part of the minority that doesn’t have the luxury of offering
outside dining.

“We are a ways away from it yet but we are going to be
diligent,” he said. “It’s an option and we will take advantage of it does hurt
us.”

Buxbaum said he expected the bill to pass this time around
but was frustrated when it didn’t end up making it a fair playing field for
everyone.

“It’s giving an advantage to people with outside decks and
bars as opposed to us smaller bar and tavern owners,” he said. “What they’ve
done is given smokers a choice and now I’m not one of those choices and that
disappoints me.”

Buxbaum went on to say he’s expecting a 10- to 20-percent
loss in revenue once the bill goes into effect next year but is prepared to
make it up in other ways. He even mentioned the idea of creating an outdoor
area for smokers and hopes the town and county would be more lenient on other
regulations as he and other owners in similar positions try to figure out ways
to keep up.

However, Buxbaum remains optimistic since it is still too
early to really tell what will happen.

“When
all the smoke clears it might just be better off for everyone,” he said.OCEAN CITY – It was Monday when the Maryland General
Assembly approved the Clean Air Indoor Act of 2007 that will ban smoking inside
all bars and restaurants across the state. Although Governor Martin O’Malley
hasn’t signed the piece of legislature making it official, he has pledged that
he soon would. 

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