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Mobtown Beat

Good Questions

What You Should Know About the New Smoking Ban in Baltimore

By Erin Sullivan | Posted 3/7/2007

On Feb. 26, the Baltimore City Council passed an ordinance that will ban smoking in bars throughout the city. We know it's been all over the news, and we probably should just read the stories that are increasingly filling the pages of The Sun and The Examiner, but really we'd rather just cut to the chase. Joshua Sharfstein, commissioner of the Baltimore City Health Department, was more than willing to help us out, and even told us that these were, indeed, "some good questions" about the ban.

When will the smoking ban take effect in Baltimore City?

"Jan. 1, 2008. People will have to extinguish their cigarettes if they are indoors at a bar at midnight. But the good news is it will be just in time for their New Year's Resolutions."

Who's going to enforce the ban, and how many people will it take to patrol the bars, making sure it is enforced?

"We're not doing patrolling. We have a team of about 15 restaurant inspectors that'll be the primary people who investigate complaints. They also do routine inspections of bars and restaurants for health inspections, and they will be able to cite the bars if there are violations. They are already in the restaurants all day, every day. We don't need to send them out just for this."

What will the penalty be if a bar owner violates the ordinance and lets people smoke in the bar anyway?

"$500 per instance, per each offense. Some of this will require some thinking, and if it's vague we will have to interpret it. But every time there is a problem, that is $500. Whether that is going to mean $500 for every single cigarette being smoked in the bar . . . I doubt it. But if it's multiple violations on different days, then yes, that's definitely going to mean repeat fines."

Who will get ticketed if smoking is going on in a bar--the bar owner or the smoker?

"Could be both. The penalty is for any person who smokes in violation of the subtitle, and the fine for that could be up to $250 to the person who lights up. For the bar owner who would let it happen, that would be $500. But to make it clear, we would totally expect that businesses would follow the law in Baltimore. This is an important law, and they need to follow it. . . . But businesses and people generally obey the law."

Can you do a citizen's arrest for someone smoking in a bar or restaurant?

"No. This is an environmental citation. The Health Department can issue an environmental citation, and the police department can also issue environmental citations. We would not expect that the police department would enforce environmental citations, but they could."

Will cigar bars still operate? Can you smoke cigarettes in a cigar bar?

"I think that's in the ordinance. If there's a smoking bar, and it derives at least 50 percent of its revenues from the sale of non-cigarette tobacco products--and they have to be licensed to serve alcoholic beverages--then they are exempt. That is one of the provisions, and that is just for a smoking bar. But there's another provision that is for a retail tobacco site, that would have to derive 75 percent of their revenues from the sale of tobacco products, and they would be exempt, too.

Will you still be able to smoke at outdoor tables and patios, or on decks at bars and restaurants?

"This ordinance prohibits smoking in an enclosed area, and that means an area that is bounded on all sides by walls. . . . So generally speaking, this only prohibits smoking in interior places. Now, there may be some potential venues where this is a judgment call and will need to be investigated more, but generally speaking this is interior only."

Can bars still have cigarette machines and/or sell cigarettes?

"Yes, it does not affect the law on that."

Will the baseball and football stadiums be nonsmoking, too?

"Well, we looked that one up, and I think that they kind of already are. [At] Oriole Park, smoking is not permitted in the seating areas [for example]. Basically, the law would certainly apply to these places for interior spaces, but I don't think it would mean that anywhere on the grounds, where there is a noninterior place, you couldn't smoke. At Ravens Stadium, smoking is permitted on open concourses and ramps."

What about rock clubs and other places where DJs and bands play--do they have to kick the habit, too?

"You will not be permitted to smoke inside a rock club. The rock musicians will benefit from not having that exposure to their vocal cords. In fact, there are some musicians who said they would not sing in Baltimore because of the smoke exposure. And, in fact, there was one who testified at the City Council hearing on this law."

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