Thursday, Jan. 31, 2008

Health Department to enforce smoking ban

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Owners of restaurants and other establishments could face fines if they allow their customers to smoke after Friday.

The statewide smoking ban applies to most public places, indoor places of employment, nonprofit private clubs such as American Legion halls, and even most modes of transportation (though private vehicles are exempt unless they are used for the ‘‘public transportation of children,” such as day care).

Outdoor areas of bars and restaurants and tobacco shops will not be affected.

The restaurant will receive a letter of reprimand on the first offense; a $100 civil penalty for the second occurrence; a $500 penalty for the third; and $1,000, for each subsequent violation, said Larry Leitch, Carroll County’s health officer.

Smokers on public transportation that have children on board will have the same fines, said Charles Zeleski, acting director for the county’s environmental health department.

Customers who see restaurants allowing people to smoke can fill out a complaint form at the Carroll County Health Department, Leitch said.

A Health Department inspector would not be sent to the restaurant the day of the complaint, and the incidents would be investigated, Leitch said.

Police officers who witness smoking in restaurants would file a complaint through the Health Department or on the Indoors Clean Air Act Web site, he said.

Employers who fire or discriminate against employees who complain about smoking in a smoke-free establishment can also be fined $2,000 to $10,000, according to Maryland Chapter 501.

The Maryland Department of Health and Hygiene is working on a packet to send to each county health office on the details of the law and how to handle complaints and incidents.

Leitch does not anticipate problems or complaints. He said health officers from counties that are smoke-free have told him they receive few complaints.

Charles, Howard, Montgomery, Prince George’s and Talbot counties and Baltimore City are already smoke-free.