By Kevin Spradlin
CUMBERLAND, Md. — The expressed purpose of lawmakers’ public indoor smoking ban is to “preserve and improve the health, comfort and environment of the people.”
New business owner Bill “Red” Rice sees the ban not as a limitation but as an opportunity. Rice is scheduled to open on Jan. 14 The Tobacconist Shoppe LLC, in conjunction with Red’s Billiards LLC, both at 114 S. Centre St.
The state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene recently released regulations that give business owners clear guidelines on how to implement the new smoking ban, which is extended generally to any indoor area accessible to the public.
The ban takes effect Feb. 1 and is the result of last year’s Clean Indoor Air Act passed by the Maryland General Assembly. The ban largely affects bars and restaurants but also places restrictions on hotels as well as day care centers and vehicles used to transport the public.
Owners of “tents or shelters must ensure those areas do not meet the definition of an indoor area,” DHMH officials said in a news release. The regulations define an indoor area as “all space in a structure or building with a ceiling that is enclosed on all sides by a combination of permanent or temporary walls, windows or doorways.”
The tobacco shop, Rice said, might not have been planned to coincide with the smoking ban — but it’s coming at just the right time.
“We’ll be the only place in Cumberland where you can smoke a cigar (indoors),” Rice said Wednesday.
Rice is choosing to limit smokers to cigars and pipes in the second-floor parlor, which is adjacent to — but separated by doors from — a bar and four pool tables.
It’s not difficult to play by the state’s new rules, Rice said. He attended one of three public meetings sponsored by the DHMH and told the agency what he plans to do. His original business model had a combined billiards and cigar shop but the new rules require him to separate the idea into two entities.
County officials said there has been little, if any, public discord over the issue.
“We honestly haven’t gotten a whole lot of questions from the public,” said Brian Dicken, director of environmental health at Allegany County Health Department. “With any kind of regulation that comes along that’s different, there’s that learning curve that not only the public has but that the inspectors have as well.”
He said county inspectors are scheduled to undergo training Jan. 22 in Hagerstown. The training is to help the inspectors understand how to enforce the changes.
Dicken said he doesn’t think the new regulations would be much of a burden on the county’s four inspectors or the 434 food service establishments they oversee. Most businesses are inspected at least twice each year, Dicken said, and “We have a very good working relationship with all the facilities that we inspect.”
The law does allow for punitive measures. A first violation would warrant a written reprimand by state health officials. A second violation could subject a business owner to a $100 civil penalty. Fines increase to “not less than $250” for each subsequent violation.
Dicken said “he doubts” any county business would incur fines and that it’s not as if the anti-smoking police force is gearing up to go door-to-door.
Complaints are taken by the health department from customers. Employees of a business should continue to report complaints to Maryland Occupational Safety and Health.
“I think it’s going to take people a while to understand what the regulations are,” Dicken said. Basically, here’s what you have to do: You have to have signage, be cooperative and that’s it.”
Business owners can apply for temporary waivers from the new regulations but first must show at least two months of a 15 percent or more loss. The loss must be associated with the smoking ban. If approved, a waiver will expire in February 2011.
Visit http://cha.state.md.us/oeh/ciaa, the state’s Office of Environmental Health, for more information.
Kevin Spradlin writes for the Cumberland (Md.) Times-News.