Smoking Ban
Smoking Ban

Lobbyists in Annapolis are trying to put this university in a bind.

In July, the university adopted the University System of Maryland’s mandate to ban smoking on the campus, with the exception of four designated areas.

Now Del. John Wood (D-Charles and St. Mary’s), under the puppetry of notorious lobbyist Bruce Bereano, has introduced a bill that could suck more than $33 million out of the university system for impeding tobacco sales.

Bereano argues the system’s smoking ban is costing tobacco retailers because smokers on university system institutions’ campuses are buying fewer cigarettes and tobacco products. In turn, he says, the state is losing tax revenue. That missing revenue should come out of the system’s budget, the bill’s supporters say.

Those first two points are probably true. While it’s probably impossible to calculate the missing money for tobacco retailers, there’s little doubt that less smoking means fewer cigarettes.

But it’s ludicrous to take money from education to support a tobacco industry that sold 293 billion cigarettes in 2011 and helps lead to more than 480,000 deaths annually nationwide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Passing this bill would force the university system and its member institutions to choose between well-being and funding, a trade-off no school — college or otherwise — should ever have to make and one we suspect would be made in favor of money.

This editorial board supported the smoking ban, arguing that any limitation on using harmful tobacco products is a smart one. But we questioned its logistics, which are still in flux.

And though we haven’t yet seen many concrete steps in the way of enforcement, we don’t want to see the ban go, especially not if it’s being held hostage by lobbyist-dictated legislation.

Bereano, a seasoned schmoozer who has lobbied in this state for more than 30 years, represented more than 40 employers as of October. Among those was the Maryland Association of Tobacco & Candy Distributors, a lobby whose very existence is flummoxing.

Besides tobacco lobbies’ profit-driven campaigns to keep deadly smoking part of the American lifestyle, the existence in this state of a lobby that consolidates smoking with candy and children-related marketing is a disgrace.

The lobby is listed in the care of George J. Falter Company, a Baltimore-based 19th century-style convenience store company that peddles Mars bars and Marlboros in the same breath.

This legislation’s origins should speak to its antiquity and absurdity. Like the Falter company, advocating for cigarettes belongs in history books and advertisements in back issues of this newspaper. Trying to force schools to allow this advocacy shouldn’t even earn a spot in history.

In fiscal year 2014, the university system spent $12 million on STEM initiatives, efforts to increase the scientific proficiency of our generation. It spent $7.5 million on closing the achievement gap, working to ensure that every student, regardless of race, ethnicity or economic standing, had the same opportunity to succeed academically.

All those efforts and more could be wiped clean if the tobacco law and its $33 million penalty were enacted. Initiatives that try to make the world better would take the backseat to a money-grabbing industry that refuses to accept that the world is moving on without it.

Tobacco is less important than our collective investment in education. Legislators in Annapolis should be quick to realize that and stop this good-for-nothing bill dead in its tracks.