Bill could cut smoking in Montgomery, Prince George’s public parks -- Gazette.Net



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A smoking ban on parkland in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties is being considered in Annapolis.

The proposal, in a bill filed on Friday, would require action by the Maryland General Assembly.

The ban would expand upon Montgomery’s current smoking prohibition, which applies to a variety of public places, such as government buildings, businesses and many restaurants. Last year, county property such as bus stops, parking garages and outdoor recreation areas was included, too.

Under the new bill, the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission would have to ban smoking of tobacco products on property under its jurisdiction, starting Oct. 1.

The new bill is sponsored by both the Montgomery and Prince George’s county delegations.

Del. Benjamin F. Kramer (D-Dist. 19) of Derwood, who worked on the idea and got his colleagues’ support for it, said a ban in parks makes sense because of the health risks associated with secondhand smoke, even outside.

There’s “no safe level of exposure,” he said, noting that secondhand smoke is a class A carcinogen, or cancer-causing agent. People might not realize that, even in open air, they need to stand at least 20 feet away to escape smoke, he said.

He said two other important reasons also are driving the proposed ban.

One is litter, which often is tobacco-related, such as cigarette butts, he said.

The other is the environmental damage tobacco trash can cause by leaching into the soil and the aquifer, Kramer said.

After visiting Ridge Road Dog Park in Germantown on Friday, Dr. Michael Raboy said he agreed with the proposed parkland ban, if the health dangers Kramer cited are true.

Raboy, a dentist who lives in Germantown, said he was a heavy smoker for five years, but hasn’t had a cigarette in two years. Now, he uses an electronic cigarette, which delivers nicotine but releases water vapor instead of tobacco smoke.

He doesn’t support one part of the bill that would directly affect him: The Park and Planning Commission, in its regulations, could prohibit an electronic cigarette or similar device, “whether or not the electronic device contains tobacco or nicotine,” the bill says.

Raboy called that idea foolish and wondered why government officials wouldn’t encourage something that cuts down on cigarette smoke and use.

On Jan. 30, Montgomery County’s planning board expressed support for the bill.

“It’s going to happen,” Mary Bradford, director of parks at Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, said of the ban. “It’s the wave of the future; how you get there is the issue.”

One sticking point was that park employees would not have anywhere to smoke, a right protected under collective bargaining, Bradford said.

To solve that, the bill was rewritten to let the county designate certain areas within parks for employee smoking.

Amy Presley, a planning board commissioner, admitted she was trying to quit smoking.

“It’s a horrible habit,” Presley said. But without designated areas, smokers like her would be forced out of parks.

The bill also was changed so the county could exclude facilities rented out for events and certain venues, such as golf courses.

“I would support this bill the way that it is written,” said Francoise Carrier, the board’s chairwoman. “It gives us parameters.”

A hearing on the bill will be held in Annapolis on March 5.