Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley yesterday approved one of the country's strictest statewide smoking bans.
Starting next February, the 2007 Clean Indoor Air Act will eliminate indoor smoking in almost all public places, including bars and restaurants, as well as in private social clubs and fraternal organizations. Tobacco stores will be virtually the only place in the state where people can light up indoors other than in private residences, cars and hotels, where 25 percent of the rooms will be smoke-friendly. The law does not exempt cigar bars, but it does not lay down any provisions that would eliminate smoking in a certain proximity from windows, entrances and exits -- provisions included in many of the other 20 statewide smoking bans that often impact the ability to smoke at restaurant outdoor seating areas.
Businesses can apply for a waiver to the law if they can prove that it has caused adverse effects or financial hardship. Any waiver would merely be a stay of execution, however, terminating on January 31, 2011. Violators will be given a warning upon the first offense, then fined $100 for the second and $250 for any additional violations.
Not withstanding state law, counties and municipalities -- many of which already have smoking bans in place -- may adopt a more stringent legislation if they so choose.
A deadlocked 11-to-11 vote in the House Health and Government subcommittee halted a bill prohibiting indoor smoking in February 2006. The measure needed 13 votes to pass and, like the newly minted law, aimed to eliminate smoking in all indoor places open to the public, including restaurants and bars.