By LIZ FARMER, Capital News Service
ANNAPOLIS - More than two of every three Marylanders favor an outright ban on smoking in restaurants and bars, once again putting the spotlight on a legislation that has been killed in the General Assembly for the past four years.
A new poll by Gonzales Research and Marketing Strategies said that 70 percent of Maryland voters favor "legislation that would ban smoking in all restaurants and bars in Maryland," with 24 percent opposed and 6 percent undecided.
"I'd love to know how many of them smoke, but more importantly how many of them own a business or have to make a financial payroll," said Bruce C. Bereano, a lobbyist for the Maryland Association of Tobacco and Candy Distributors. "That would be a significant poll. This one is meaningless."
The survey also found that three of every four Marylanders favor tougher state emissions standards for new cars and Gov. Martin O'Malley's $400 million pledge for public school construction, but that the state remained relatively split on allowing slot machines at the racetracks, with 53 percent in favor.
Overall, the poll found that most Democrats and Independents and a near majority of Republicans see Maryland "moving in the right direction."
The survey was taken Jan. 22 through Jan. 28, and sampled a total of 809 registered voters in Maryland by telephone. The poll has a margin of error of 3.5 percent, and a higher margin for its demographic subgroups.
"I'm surprised that the car emissions approval was as high as it was," said Patrick Gonzales, president of the polling and research firm. Gonzales also said that it was the first time his company had added that issue to the survey questions, and that a more in-depth survey would need to be done to understand where voters truly stand on the issue.
"I can't predict right now where that one ends up, certainly without knowing all the details," he said.
O'Malley, who enjoys a generally favorable rating in the poll, called for the General Assembly's support for the Clean Cars Act to adopt stricter emission standards during his State of the State Address Wednesday. His request was met by a standing ovation from senators and delegates.
The governor brought the legislators to their feet again when he highlighted his $400 million pledge for school construction, which also has the support of 81 percent of Maryland voters, according to the Gonzales poll.
However, O'Malley glossed over the issue of slots legislation, and did not mention a statewide smoking ban at all.
With or without the new governor's support, the smoking ban has been proposed again for the fifth straight year, and those who oppose it say that the voter responses in the Gonzales poll do not matter and that the debate is purely a business issue.
Melvin Thompson, vice president of government relations for the Restaurant Association of Maryland, also said that the results were not surprising, considering that "80 percent of the population says they are non smokers" and that many Maryland restaurants are already smoke-free. "We don't take much stock in the results of this survey and neither do the lawmakers in Annapolis who understand a business owner's perspective," he said.