Nearly two-thirds of likely voters in Charles County favor a comprehensive statewide workplace smoking ban, according to a new poll that could bolster efforts by Commissioner Robert J. Fuller (D-St. Charles) to pass a similar local measure.
The survey, conducted by an independent Maryland pollster and commissioned by a group that supports restrictions, found that 64 percent of likely general election voters in Charles would back a ban on smoking in all workplaces, including restaurants and bars.
Fifty-five percent strongly favor a proposed statewide law and 9 percent are mildly supportive.
Slightly more than one-third of likely voters, 34 percent, oppose such a ban, with 26 percent strongly opposed and 8 percent less fervent in their opposition.
Fuller said this week that he was encouraged by the poll results and intends to introduce his measure in January. The proposal, he said, will probably be modeled on Talbot County's ban, which exempts private clubs, such as American Legion halls.
This month, Prince George's became the third Maryland jurisdiction to approve a local ban. Howard County and the District are poised to consider similar proposals.
"It's going to happen. It's just a question of when, not if," said Fuller, who lost his voice to throat cancer after a lifetime of chain-smoking.
Commissioners President Wayne Cooper (D-At Large), who has had family members with smoking-related illnesses, said he supports Fuller's effort.
The Charles poll -- conducted by Keith Haller of Potomac Inc. -- was commissioned by the Smoke Free Maryland Coalition, an organization that has been pressing to change the law at the state level. The interviews with 400 likely general election voters in state Senate District 28, which includes nearly all of the county, were conducted by phone in August. The results have a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percentage points.
Support in Charles is slightly lower than in Montgomery and Prince George's counties, where polls have shown at least 70 percent of likely voters support such a ban. But it is stronger than in Western Maryland, according to past surveys by the coalition.
Fuller's effort failed last year because of opposition from commissioners worried about the financial health of bars and charitable organizations that allow smoking during fundraising bingo games.
Commissioner Al Smith (R-Waldorf) said he would get behind a measure that banned smoking in restaurants but not bars.
"I don't think we should go that far," Smith said. "Most people going there are adults."
La Plata restaurateur Paul Bales said he had mixed emotions about the government intervening in people's dining choices. He would prefer a statewide measure that applies equally to restaurants, bars and private clubs. But Bales said he would also support a local ban if it applied across the board in Charles.
"I think it's good for the employees," said Bales, who has 65 workers at the Crossing at Casey Jones.
The anti-smoking coalition that commissioned the survey plans to push again for a statewide ban when the General Assembly convenes in January, and director Kari Appler said she hoped public support will translate into votes in Annapolis.
With local legislators, though, that might be a challenge. Del. Sally Y. Jameson (D-Charles) said she prefers a policy of personal choice and would probably oppose such a measure.
"When I personally go out for a dinner, I have the ability to make my own choice. Am I going to go where there's smoke or not?" said Jameson, who is the executive director of the Charles County Chamber of Commerce.
At the county level, Jameson said, there are historical reasons to let the marketplace dictate how businesses operate.
"Southern Maryland is steeped in tobacco history. That was our main form of commerce through the years, and people recognize that's where a lot of our prosperity came from."