Smoke-Free Md. Starts Today

OCEAN CITY – Restaurants
and bars in Ocean City and across Maryland are completely smoke-free starting
today with the arrival of the effective date of legislation passed last year to
prohibit smoking in all indoor public places with few exceptions.

Many businesses
throughout the area this week scrubbed the last vestiges of smoking from their
establishments, discarded or stowed ashtrays and made other arrangements for
the arrival of the smoking ban across the state. Others who voluntarily
prohibited smoking in advance of the ban planned for a new day with a level
playing field with their competitors.

The issue has been a
passionate one for years but came to a head last year when the General Assembly
finally passed a statewide ban on smoking in restaurants and bars. Several
local jurisdictions passed similar bans in advance of the statewide smoking
ban, but the legislation approved last year applies to every corner of the

While most agree the
smoking ban addresses an important public safety issue, some proprietors
decried the law as another intrusion by the government on private enterprise.
Others have embraced the law from the beginning, but have reluctantly stayed
away from implementing a ban in their establishments for competitive reasons.

In either case, all
businesses are smoke-free today and many are in the process of making
accommodations to their smoking clientele. From one end of the resort to the
other, business owners and staff were busy this week creating alternatives for
their smoking guests while making sure they are following the letter of the law
for their non-smoking customers.

The law does provide for
some exceptions. For example, businesses with existing outside, open areas will
be allowed to accommodate their smoking customers, while others are creating
new areas outside of the building footprint to comply with the letter of the

“We’re making an effort
to totally accommodate our smoking guests,” said Greene Turtle West General Manager
Chad Rogers. “We’re going out of way of our way to do that. We have an outside
area already on our patio that we’re converting to a smoking area.”

The outside smoking area
will include tables and chairs, televisions for all the sports action and other
amenities for smokers. It will be outside in the elements, according to Rogers, but there will be
flaps that can be put down when the conditions warrant them.

“It’s going to be easily
accessible and very open, but it will allow some of our guests to pop out and
smoke without interfering with our non-smokers,” he said.

It will be the latter
that will benefit from the smoking ban, obviously. Rogers said he is looking forward to inviting
back the segment of the clientele that might have stayed away because the
establishment allowed smoking in the bar area.

“I’m really excited
about them coming back,” he said. “I’ve heard people tell me they love the bar
and the food and the music, but they stayed away because it got smoky in here
sometimes. This is going to be a good thing for everybody. The place is going
to be cleaner, it’s going to smell better and we’ll start seeing more families
with young kids coming back.”

The Greene Turtle is one
of many restaurants and bars around the state that is donating a portion of
their proceeds from today’s business to the American Cancer Society in honor of
start of the indoor smoking ban. All of the Greene Turtles across the state are
participating with the original Greene Turtle in north Ocean City
contributing part of its proceeds for the whole day.

Much of the donated
proceeds will be dedicated to the Relay for Life program. American Cancer
Society officials this week celebrated the arrival of the effective date of the
law and praised state lawmakers and the business community for their conviction
on the issue.

“We are very excited
that this day has finally arrived and we would like to express our gratitude to
the lawmakers and restaurant owners who believed in this fight,” said American
Cancer Society Government Relations Director Bonita Pennino this week. “They
understood that strong smoke-free laws protect the health of both workers and
patrons, and these laws do not harm business, providing a win-win situation for
public health and the state’s economy.”

While most bars and
restaurants in the resort are adjusting and adapting to the new smoke-ban law
this week, others have voluntarily been smoke-free well in advance of the
legislation. Some have banned smoking outright since they opened; while others
have adapted a hybrid approach with smoking limited to certain designated

For example, the
Crabcake Factory in north Ocean
City has been completely
smoke-free in all inside areas since it opened 11 years ago. Owner Johnny
Brooks, a former smoker, said this week the decision to go smoke-free was based
on personal preference.

“We have been smoke-free
from the beginning when nobody else was doing it,” he said. “For a long time,
we were the only ones. From day one, we haven’t allowed smoking in any of the
indoor areas. I used to be a smoker and I just got tired of being around it.”

Brooks said he has heard
grumblings in the business community about the potential impact on the bottom
line, but advised his colleagues to keep an open mind on the issue.

“Change is difficult, but

everybody will get used to it,” he said. “It happened in Delaware. They [business owners] shouldn’t

be worried. I think they’ll find themselves with a whole new segment of the
customer base.”

Over in West Ocean
City, Dr. Unk’s is
another establishment that has been smoke-free from the beginning. Owner Greg
Grimm said this week it was a tough choice with so many of his competitors in
the immediate area allowing smoking, but the decision has paid off for him with
a legion of loyal non-smokers.

“When I first opened, I
was looking to do something different,” he said. “I wanted to give people an
alternative. We were kind of the odd duck for awhile, but we’re three years in
now and it has panned out for us.”

Grimm said he
understands some in the business community have grave concerns about government
dictating policy to private enterprise, but said the time was right for a
complete smoking ban in Maryland.

“Maryland has had smoke-free workplaces for
most employees for about 12 years,” he said. “Restaurant workers were never
part of that, but they are on the front lines. They needed the same protection
from second-hand smoke that all other members of the workforce enjoy.”

While some resort
restaurants and bars can readily accommodate smokers with outside areas not
included in the bill, others might find themselves at a competitive
disadvantage with their neighbors. Like the Greene Turtle West, some are
creating designated smoking areas outside the building, but others are faced
with limited opportunities to do so because of the physical limitations of
their sites.

The state law does
include a provision for a waiver if economic hardship caused by the smoking ban
can be proven. However, it will likely be difficult to gain a waiver given the
strong support for the legislation.