Hearing on Harford tobacco ban draws slim crowd, mostly opponents

A hearing on the proposed tobacco use ban on all Harford County government property, including recreational facilities, drew a small crowd to the county administration building on Main Street in Bel Air Monday afternoon, mostly people who wanted to talk about the rights of smokers.

Just 10 people showed up and only a handful spoke, with the majority of them testifying against the ban.

County spokesman Bob Thomas, who moderated the session, warned the hearing “is not a session for dialogue… we are here to hear your comments.”

Thomas listened to the comments along with county Director of Administration Mary Chance, Human Resources Director Scott Gibson and Senior assistant county attorney Deborah Duvall.
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Several of those who spoke against the ban noted they are smokers who have either tried to quit in the past or have gotten cancer.

James Liescheidt, of Bel Air, said it was hard to be respectful when he sees “do-gooders” taking people’s rights away.

“When you are outside, what damage is a cigar or cigarette going to cause?” he asked, wondering if liquor stores will be the next target for a ban or if he will be banned from smoking while driving on a county road.

“I thought we had a Republican administration in Harford County. The Republicans aren’t normally going out and looking for things to penalize the public with,” he said.

Liescheidt asked why the proposal did not go through the Harford County Council and appears to be a done deal.

“I think this decision has already been made,” he said, asking why the meeting was at 2 p.m. on a Monday when people are working.

“Will our objections be of any benefit or is this an edict that’s going to go into effect whether we like it or not?” he asked.

Craig Lanphear, administrator of Swan Harbor Farm near Havre de Grace, wondered how this might affect the county-owned property he helps run, a well known venue for weddings and other private parties and events

Lanphear noted he had scheduled about 80 events through 2012 and said he was not sure if a ban on tobacco use might affect some of those contracts. The proposed tobacco-free environment rule and regulation drafted by Duvall is due to take effect Jan. 1, 2012; however, it contains a provision for the county to provide a designated smoking area outside any leased county facility that is under contract to be used prior to the ban taking effect.

Lanphear also asked how realistic it is to enforce the ban in all parts of the nearly 500-acre property and whether it might also affect people smoking in rental properties at the farm.

Pridgeon, who leads the Harford branch of Campaign for Liberty, said the ban is another example of government interference in people’s lives.

“Rules and regulations are exactly what is wrong with government in our lives today,” Pridgeon said, citing the example of a grandmother whose clothes were taken off by the Transportation Security Administration screeners and a ban on asthma inhalers elsewhere.

“We as Americans are constantly, quote unquote, ‘being protected’ by the government,” he continued. “We are tired of [members] of the government telling us what to do. We pay our taxes. Stay out of our lives.”

Mike Hiob, a county inspector and a former Aberdeen City Council member, said he thinks the majority of county employees and residents supports the ban.

Hiob said he has talked with county employees, and “most say they are in favor of this.”

He also asked the panel to consider that the people who come out to a hearing are likely to be part of the minority opposed to the idea.

Before the meeting, Chance, the county administration director, told the audience the county worked hard to find a policy that addresses everyone’s needs, as well as the health of county employees.

Afterward, Chance said the meeting was purposely scheduled during work hours so county employees could attend.

“We knew that this would be a semi-controversial issue,” she said, explaining the county is working with the health department.

The hearing does not seem likely to after the county administration’s plan to implement the tobacco ban.

“I feel that the county is going to move forward,” Chance said. “We want to be as flexible as possible with our parks facilities… I think it’s really critical to be flexible with it.”



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