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State looks to take the next step in smoking bans

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Published on: Thursday, February 28, 2013

By Holden Wilen

ANNAPOLIS - Two weeks ago, the Montgomery County Council passed a bill establishing a ban on smoking on most county-owned and county-leased property, but now the Montgomery County Delegation in the Maryland General Assembly is attempting to take another step against smoking by sponsoring a bill to try to limit secondhand smoke in apartment complexes.

The council passed the smoking ban because of concerns from residents about health issues, Councilwoman Nancy Floreen said, and people shouldn’t have to suffer the effects of secondhand smoke when going to the library or walking into work.

“I think it sends the message loud and clear that if you’re a smoker, you pretty much need to do it in the privacy of your own personal property, but not on taxpayer property,” Floreen said.

The Montgomery County Delegation’s bill, HB 676, would allow a resident living in a unit of an apartment complex to file a lawsuit and seek relief if a neighbor’s secondhand smoke drifts into their apartment more than once in a 14-day period.

“It’s not an antismoking bill; it is a pro-property rights bill,” said Del. Ben Kramer, who presented the bill to the House of Delegates. “Under the legislation, it does not prohibit anyone from smoking. However, when the secondhand smoke becomes so problematic for someone else in their home that they cannot live comfortably in their home, then that’s where this legislation comes in. It’s about everyone being entitled to the quiet enjoyment of their home.”

The bill is exclusive to Montgomery County, Kramer said, because there needs to be more support statewide. Kramer first introduced the bill a year ago as a statewide bill because of a constituent who was sleeping in her car to stay away from secondhand smoke, but he sensed he needed to start small and make the bill a local one first.

Kramer said the County Council does not have the ability to introduce or pass bills allowing access to courts, which is why the bill must be passed on the state level.

Bruce Bereano, a lobbyist for tobacco wholesalers, said he does not agree with the bill at all and the bill is clearly anti-smoking legislation. Adult smoking, he said, is a legal, lawful activity, and adults have the right to do it in the privacy of their own homes.

“Fumes that come from one person’s unit to another—that’s not a smoking problem, that’s a construction problem,” Bereano said. “The units are then not properly insulated and constructed to keep out smoking, or an odor or any other item in the air. People have the right to enjoy their property on both sides of the issue.”

Nuisances are statewide, Bereano said, and not local. If HB 676 passed, it would be very bad policy that would set a bad precedent, he said.

When asked about the possibility of residents filing lawsuits against neighbors even if the smoke is not a disturbance, Kramer said the bill allows the courts to decide. Residents can already take their neighbors to court, he said, but the proposed law provides guidance.

In response to claims the bill infringes on the rights of smokers, Kramer said there are already limitations on people’s rights.

“We limit free speech to some degree,” Kramer said. “You can’t yell ‘Fire!’ in a movie theater. We limit what you can do in your own dwelling. If I come in and I crank up my stereo or my television to the point where it is disrupting the quiet enjoyment of someone else in their home, we allow for neighbors to intervene and either go to the courts or call law enforcement.”

Bereano disagreed with Kramer’s comparison and said government should stay out of people’s apartments and bedrooms.

“Smoking a cigarette and the loudness of noise are two entirely different matters and really should not be acquainted or analogized together,” Bereano said. “That just doesn’t make any sense.”

Floreen said she is sympathetic to Kramer’s bill, but it is completely separate from the ban passed by the council. However, she said Montgomery County has reached a point where it expects smoking to be a highly limited activity.

“I think the vast majority [of Montgomery County residents] want a county where they don’t have to suffer the consequences of secondhand smoke,” she said.

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