DHMH Daily News Clippings

Saturday, May 8, 2004
News Clipping Archives
Queen Anne's seeks estimate of cost for mental health care
(Easton Star Democrat)
Lab Mishandled Lead Tests (Washington Post)
School evacuated after odor makes several ill (Annapolis Capital)
Deaths in N.J. from rare disease called unlinked (Baltimore Sun)
Lieberman Decries Gaps in Bioterror Preparedness (Washington Post)
Judge rejects dismissal of $280 billion tobacco suit (Baltimore Sun)
FDA: Plan B Sales Rejected Against Advice (Washington Post)
VA to Close Some Hospitals, Build Others (Washington Post)
Discounting Drugs (Washington Post Editorial)
Compromising on Smoking, Compromising on Health
(Washington Post Letter to the Editor) 
 

 
 
 
Queen Anne's seeks estimate of cost for mental health care
550 in county served by regional program that is shutting down
 
By Konrad Surowiec, Staff Writer
Easton Star Democrat
Friday, May 7, 2004
 
CENTREVILLE - The Queen Anne's County Commissioners asked county Health Officer Dr. Chinnadurai Devadason to provide an estimate by Friday, May 7, on how much it would cost the county to run a public mental health program.
 
The regional public program that provides outpatient mental health services for Caroline, Kent and Queen Anne's counties is being shut down. Regional Mid-Shore Mental Health Services is operated by the Caroline County Health Department. Dr. Leland Spencer, health officer for Caroline and Kent counties, said last week the regional program will cease to exist, although the outpatient clinics in each county will remain open during a transition period.
 
Spencer cited a debt of about $500,000 owed to the state as a main factor in ending the regional program. He said in a previous interview that a public mental health agency has a hard time running a "fee for service" program at a break-even level. Spencer is worried that Caroline County, as administrator of the regional program, will be solely responsible for paying off the debt to the state.
 
Devadason and Gary Fry, director of alcohol and drug abuse services for the Queen Anne's Health Department, spoke to the Queen Anne's County Commissioners on May 4 about the pending closure of the regional program. Fry is administrator for the regional program. Devadason said Spencer wants to know by May 11 what Queen Anne's plans to do once the regional program ends. Devadason said the options boil down to having Queen Anne's County run its own public program, or privatizing mental health services.
 
Commissioner Gene Ransom suggested the county provide $100,000 for a county-run mental health program in fiscal 2005. Devadason said it was hard to predict how much a county program would cost in comparison to a program that serves three counties. Devadason, saying it was a very rough estimate, said Queen Anne's County's share of the expenditures in fiscal 2004 was $800,000 to $900,000. Fry said total expenditures for the regional program in fiscal 2004 are estimated at $2.5 million. The commissioners asked Devadason to provide an estimate on the cost of running a Queen Anne's County program in fiscal 2005 to County Administrator Paul Comfort on May 7.
 
"It's a very serious issue. ... We want to work with you," said Commission President Ben Cassell. But it's hard to put a 'blank' in a budget line.' "
 
Complete story appears in the print version.
 
� The Star Democrat 2004
 

 
 
Lab Mishandled Lead Tests
Florida Firm Offers Refunds to Affected Customers
 
By Caroline E. Mayer
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 8, 2004; Page E01
 
Capitol Hill resident Matthew Pascocello thought it was odd when the water in his 80-year-old house and a friend's two-year-old house had the same test results for lead, 0.2 parts per billion.
 
He became more concerned last week when he discovered that two residents in other parts of the city received the same result from Florida-based Professional Laboratories Inc., the nation's largest manufacturer and distributor of environmental testing kits.
 
The discovery of increased lead levels in the drinking water of District homes in the past few months led to more than 10,000 D.C. homes being tested by the District's Water and Sewer Authority. Several hundred had levels higher than the 15 parts per billion government safety standard, according to WASA figures released this week.
 
Pascocello had turned to Professional Laboratories, which sells its tests under the Pro-Lab brand name, because he "wasn't fully trusting WASA to have a nonbiased test." The city test had found lead levels as high as 21 parts per billion in his water, he said.
 
When he called the company this week about the "too weird" identical 0.2 results, Pascocello triggered an internal inquiry that found errors. Professional Laboratories is now offering refunds to affected customers.
 
The 0.2 reading, it turns out, meant there was less than 200 parts per billion of lead in the drinking water; the test wasn't specific enough to determine if that meant more or less than the 15 parts per billion government standard.
 
Yesterday, Professional Laboratories' chief executive, James McDonnell, said he is reviewing the 975 tests the company sold over the past three months to see how many homeowners received the 0.2-parts-per-billion readings. He did not know how many tests that would involve, but in each case, he said, he would mail out a letter refunding $25 to cover the entire cost of the kit, which costs between $9 and $12, and the $15 lab analysis fee. The company is also offering a new kit and new test, free, at a different lab.
 
"The bottom line is I'm refunding everyone their money," McDonnell said.
 
He blamed the problem on Richmond-based Schneider Laboratories Inc., which served as its subcontractor for the water testing. McDonnell said Schneider conducted the wrong test, failing to use a more sophisticated and costly procedure required to measure very low levels of lead in water.
 
Schneider's lab manager James Vescio, disputed that. "The results Pro-Lab was getting were not drinking-water results and Pro-Lab knew that," Vescio said. Those tests, he added, would have cost at least twice the $15 that consumers paid Pro-Lab to get their water analyzed, Vescio said.
 
McDonnell said Vescio was "100 percent wrong."
 
Local retailers around the area said sales of the Pro-Lab kit were brisk in February and March, when initial reports about the lead problems first surfaced. At Strosnider's in Bethesda, for example, manager Craig Smith said that he sold about 300 kits in the past three months, compared with about 50 in the same period a year ago. It was the only water-testing kit he sold.
 
McDonnell said that although his company conducts a million lab tests a year, usually measuring the amount of radon in a home, it typically sells no more than 900 tests for lead in drinking water annually.
 
� 2004 The Washington Post Company
 
 

 
School evacuated after odor makes several ill
 
By Eric Hartley, Staff Writer
Annapolis Capital
Saturday, May 8, 2004
 
Shady Side Elementary School was evacuated yesterday after a "moldy" odor, possibly related to an air conditioning unit, made several adults and students ill, a county Fire Department spokesman said.
 
Division Chief John Scholz said two women and a 7-year-old boy were taken to Anne Arundel Medical Center after they complained of being dizzy and nauseated.
 
Hazardous materials teams did tests, but couldn't find the source of the odor yesterday, Chief Scholz said. School system maintenance workers will inspect the building over the weekend.
 
The school's 400-plus students walked to nearby Discovery Village, where they had water and snacks until buses picked them up about 3:30 p.m.
 
"What a day. Nothing happens like this in Shady Side," said a harried Adam Hewison, Discovery Village's founder, who spent the afternoon dealing with the controlled chaos that is a few hundred 5- to-11-year-olds.
 
Firefighters were called to the school at 11:11 a.m. and found seven people with flu-like symptoms, Chief Scholz said.
 
Most felt better once they got outside, but three were taken to the hospital.
 
The air conditioner in the school's "core," which houses the main offices, had been turned on not long before people began to feel sick. Those affected included a school nurse and a secretary, parents said.
 
Mary Glumsic, a parent who was volunteering at the school yesterday, said she felt some of the same symptoms when she walked in certain areas.
 
"I noticed like a slight burning in my throat, but I didn't even think anything of it," she said.
 
Firefighters left the scene about 12:45 p.m. Meanwhile, many parents had gone to Discovery Village either to pick up their kids or find out what was happening.
 
The kids munched on bag lunches brought over from Southern Middle School.
 
The students were "packed" inside, but behaved well, said Ron Russell, another Shady Side Elementary parent. He said he works at Discovery Village and suggested taking the children there.
"We don't usually have 500 kids indoors," Mr. Hewison said. "We're coping the best we can."
 
Staff writers E.B. Furgurson III and Carmen Mauriello contributed to this story.
 
Published May 08, 2004, The Capital, Annapolis, Md.
Copyright � 2004 The Capital, Annapolis, Md.
 
 

 
Deaths in N.J. from rare disease called unlinked
 
Baltimore Sun
Saturday, May 8, 2004
 
TRENTON, N.J. - State and federal health officials said yesterday that an investigation showed nothing unusual about the number of deaths from a rare brain-destroying disease among people linked to a now-closed racetrack.
 
"There is no cluster. There is no outbreak," Dr. Clifton R. Lacy, commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services, said after releasing a report on the investigation. "It is well within what's expected." The investigation was prompted by a businesswoman's research into the deaths of several people who worked at or frequented the Garden State Racetrack in Cherry Hill between 1988 and 1992. All died of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a brain-destroying disorder, or neurological problems.
 
Accountant Janet Skarbek says the deaths were caused by eating mad-cow-tainted meat served at the track, which closed in 2001. Lacy said top scientists in his department, other states, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the top U.S. research center for such nerve-destroying diseases have investigated 17 deaths since 1995. Tests show three people had other diseases, three investigations are not complete and 11 cases have been ruled as naturally occurring, or sporadic, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.
 
Copyright � 2004, The Baltimore Sun
 
 

 
Lieberman Decries Gaps in Bioterror Preparedness
 
By Ceci Connolly
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 8, 2004; Page A05
 
Budget cuts, poor coordination and a lack of attention from high-ranking federal health officials have "left America still too vulnerable to a possible bioterror attack," Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.) wrote yesterday in a scathing iteration of gaps in the nation's preparedness.
 
Two years after Congress passed legislation outlining specific steps for preventing, detecting and responding to terrorist incidents, Lieberman said the Bush administration "has not come close to complying with the basic requirements and goals" of the measure.
 
Specifically, he said, key staff positions have gone unfilled, public health laboratories are poorly equipped, mandatory progress reports have not been filed, hospitals do not have the beds or equipment to handle mass casualties, and there remains confusion over the roles and responsibilities of various local, state and federal agencies. And the National Preparedness Plan "is merely a listing of bioterrorism-related activities" underway, Lieberman wrote to Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson.
 
Within hours, Thompson fired off a response, calling the accusations "erroneous" and "absurd." Lieberman's assessment "is absolutely laughable on its face," Thompson said in an interview. "We are being criticized for what states have not done."
 
Lieberman cited one independent analysis last year that concluded "the level of preparedness was actually declining in many states" because they are trimming public health departments' budgets.
 
Most notably, the senator said, the administration has proposed cutting more than $150 million from bioterrorism-related projects such as hospital surge capacity, mental health care, emergency response training, and assistance to city and state health departments. Given such a "disturbing record," Lieberman said, "you'd think the threat was diminishing."
 
The problem, Thompson responded, is that states have not spent almost half of the $3.7 billion in current grants. Rather than cutting the budget, Thompson said, he is simply shifting money away from cities and states and giving it to federal bioterrorism programs.
 
That, said Patrick M. Libbey of the National Association of County and City Health Officials, "is misinformation." He said 92 percent of the grant money has been obligated by states, which in many cases are simply waiting to receive bills.
 
A two-page HHS fact sheet noted that the administration has proposed a $65 million increase for food safety and an additional $121 million for biodefense research. Thompson touted efforts to expand food inspections, the construction of a "war room" at HHS headquarters, the purchase of millions of doses of smallpox vaccine and a new surveillance project the agency is developing with the Department of Homeland Security.
 
In closing his response, Thompson chastised Lieberman for failing to tour the HHS command center and promised the senator that he would personally give him a tour if he did make a visit.
 
Lieberman's criticism echoed several government and independent audits that have cited shortcomings in the government's bioterrorism preparations.
 
� 2004 The Washington Post Company
 
 

 
Judge rejects dismissal of $280 billion tobacco suit
Industry said U.S. failed to show prospect of fraud
 
Associated Press
Baltimore Sun
Saturday, May 8, 2004
 
WASHINGTON - A federal judge has denied the tobacco industry's request to dismiss the Justice Department's $280 billion lawsuit against the nation's top cigarette makers.
 
The tobacco industry argued in a motion that the case should not be brought to trial this fall because the Justice Department has failed to show that the companies were likely to commit fraud in the future.
 
"To answer that question, the court must hear and weigh the evidence, which is properly done at trial," U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler said in a written ruling issued late Thursday.
 
Anti-smoking groups applauded that decision and said it significantly moved the case forward. "I do think it makes it clear that there is going to be a trial," said Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-free Kids.
 
The Justice Department filed the civil racketeering case against the industry for allegedly conspiring to deceive the public about the dangers of tobacco and the addictive nature of nicotine. The government also claims the companies targeted children through advertising and then lied about it.
 
The lawsuit was filed under the Clinton administration. The Justice Department, under the Bush administration, initially sought to settle the case but has pursued it since those talks failed.
 
Kessler rejected an argument by the tobacco companies that the case should be dismissed because a 1998 legal settlement with 46 states restricted the industry's ability to commit future wrongdoing. The companies noted the numerous restrictions the settlement imposes on them, such as a ban on cartoon characters and ads on public transportation or billboards.
 
"There is no question that Philip Morris USA and other tobacco companies have dramatically changed the way their products are marketed," said William Ohlemeyer, a lawyer for Philip Morris USA, the nation's largest cigarette manufacturer.
 
Kessler said the companies were asking her to assume that the industry has complied with the settlement and will continue to comply with it, assumptions she said she would not make at this stage in the case.
 
She also noted that the government is seeking remedies not provided under the settlement with the states. They include new marketing restrictions, funding of nicotine replacement therapy for smokers and the $280 billion allegedly earned through fraud.
Kessler still must respond to a motion filed by the tobacco industry in which the cigarette makers argue that the government should not be allowed to recoup the billions sought.
 
She did say in the latest round of rulings that all the tobacco companies could be on the hook for the entire amount of damages if the government proves its case and payments are ordered. That means if one company can't pay, the others would be responsible for its share.
 
The defendants are Philip Morris USA Inc. and its parent, Altria Group Inc.; R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.; Brown & Williamson Tobacco Co.; British American Tobacco Ltd.; Lorillard Tobacco Co.; Liggett Group Inc.; Council for Tobacco Research-U.S.A. Inc.; and the Tobacco Institute.
 
Copyright � 2004, The Baltimore Sun
 
 

 
FDA: Plan B Sales Rejected Against Advice
Official Denies That Politics Blocked Contraceptive's Over-the-Counter Status
 
By Marc Kaufman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 8, 2004; Page A02
 
The Food and Drug Administration acknowledged yesterday that it rejected over-the-counter sales of the emergency contraceptive Plan B against the advice of its own staff -- as well as two expert advisory panels -- who recommended that it be approved.
 
But officials denied that the decision was made to satisfy the political wishes of social conservatives, who lobbied President Bush by saying that increased accessibility to emergency contraception would lead to greater promiscuity among teenagers.
 
In a teleconference yesterday, Steven Galson, acting director of the FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, said he made the decision in consultation with the FDA commissioner's office but without other outside input.
 
"The decision I made had to do with looking at all the data and reading all the transcripts," said Galson, who was named deputy director of the FDA's drug evaluation office in 2002 after more than 10 years with other federal agencies. He said he was especially concerned about the lack of information about "the younger age group between 11 and 14, where we know there is a substantial amount of sexual activity."
 
The decision was an unusual repudiation of the agency's expert advisory panel, which voted 23 to 4 that the drug should be sold over the counter. FDA observers said it was extremely uncommon, if not unprecedented, for the agency to overrule its reviewers and expert panels.
 
The campaign of Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kerry quickly attacked the decision. "Women's health should not be held hostage to election-year politics and pandering to anti-choice extremists," Kerry said in a statement. "In this White House, politics trumps sound science every time. The Bush Administration is clearly more interested in appealing to its electoral base than it is in protecting women's health."
 
Scott Stanzel, spokesman for the Bush-Cheney campaign, referred questions to the FDA.
 
In a letter Thursday to Barr Laboratories, the agency said it denied the application because only 29 of the 585 people who used the medication in the company's study were younger than 16 -- a sample that it said was too small to assess safety for that group. Proponents of the application said the study reflected the ages of the women and girls who use Plan B.
 
Galson said the FDA wants to increase the availability of contraception for American women and would work with Barr to resolve outstanding issues. In its letter to Barr, the agency said the company has to prove the drug is safe for girls through research or devise a plan that would keep Plan B on prescription-only status for girls younger than 16. Galson also referred yesterday to the possibility that the drug might be sold as a nonprescription but behind-the-counter drug.
 
Plan B consists of two high doses of a hormone used for birth control called levonorgestrel, which has been shown to prevent pregnancy if taken within 72 hours after sex. More than 100 nations have approved it, and 33 allow its sale without a prescription. Galson said yesterday, however, that none of the nations has an over-the-counter drug system the same as that in the United States, and so their experiences could not be used to assess the safety of Plan B for American girls.
 
Unlike Mifeprex, or RU-486, the medical profession does not consider emergency contraception an abortion pill, because it prevents a pregnancy from starting. Some critics of Plan B disagree and consider it an abortifacient. Asked the FDA's view, Galson said "the primary mode of action" of Plan B is as a contraceptive.
 
A bipartisan group of 37 members of Congress who support abortion rights wrote a letter yesterday to the FDA protesting its decision, which evoked a range of strong reactions.
 
"The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists finds the [FDA's] failure to approve over-the-counter status for Plan B, despite the nearly unanimous recommendation of its own advisory panels, morally repugnant . . . ," organization president Vivian M. Dickerson said in a statement. The FDA's "action is a tragedy for American women, and a dark stain on the reputation of an evidence-based agency like the FDA."
 
A group that represents female Republican candidates who support abortion rights, the Wish List, called the decision a lost opportunity to narrow the divide over the abortion issue. There is broad agreement that emergency contraception can significantly decrease the number of abortions, perhaps cutting in half the 3 million unintended pregnancies each year in the United States.
 
"This is a bridge issue; one in which reasonable people on both sides, those who support abortion rights as well as those who oppose, can find common ground because Plan B can reduce the number of abortions in this country," Chairwoman Karen Judd Lewis said in a statement.
 
But Judie Brown, president of the antiabortion American Life League, supported the decision and urged the FDA denial.
 
"While we are quite pleased that the Food and Drug Administration has advised Barr Laboratories that it will not grant over-the-counter status for Plan B at this time, the action is far from being totally satisfactory," she said in a statement. "The FDA should never have approved the various concoctions described as morning-after pills, erroneously labeled as 'emergency contraceptives' in the first place.
 
". . . The best thing the FDA can do now for American women and their progeny is to take the next logical step and remove these pills from the market altogether."
 
� 2004 The Washington Post Company
 
 

 
VA to Close Some Hospitals, Build Others
 
By Christopher Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 8, 2004; Page A04
 
The Department of Veterans Affairs announced a major revamping of its sprawling health care system yesterday that will bring the closure of three hospitals in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Mississippi, the building of ones in Florida and Nevada, and changes in medical services at many other facilities.
 
The restructuring, unveiled by VA Secretary Anthony J. Principi at a Las Vegas news conference, is intended to streamline an operation that treated nearly 5 million patients last year. But the plan has been criticized by the General Accounting Office as wasting more than $1 million a day on unused or unneeded facilities.
 
The plan concludes a process known as Capital Asset Realignment for Enhanced Services, which began in 2002 as an effort to find ways to shutter unneeded facilities and deliver health care more efficiently. The changes, expected to cost more than $6 billion, will shift services to areas with growing veteran populations in the South and West.
 
"We commit to providing greater access to quality care closer to where more veterans live," Principi said. "We pledge our facilities will be modern and more functional. . . . Our physical infrastructure has not kept pace."
 
Under the plan, the VA will close hospitals in Pittsburgh; Gulfport, Miss.; and Brecksville, Ohio. It will build hospitals in Las Vegas and Orlando. None of the hospitals will close before 2007, Principi said in an interview.
 
The VA will open 156 new outpatient clinics by 2012, he said. The plan calls for two new rehabilitation centers for blind veterans, in Biloxi, Miss., and Long Beach, Calif. The department also will create new spinal cord centers, in Denver; Minneapolis; Syracuse, N.Y.; and a still-undetermined city.
 
Several changes affect the national capital region.
 
Seventy-seven domiciliary beds from the VA Medical Center in Martinsburg, W.Va., and 22 psychiatric beds from Maryland's Perry Point VA Medical Center will be transferred to the Washington VA Medical Center. The plan also calls for the VA to take part in a joint venture with the Armed Forces Retirement Home for transitional housing for homeless veterans, Principi said.
 
In Virginia, 13 outpatient clinics will open in Fort Belvoir, Norfolk, Charlottesville, Emporia, Staunton, Radford, Lynchburg, Pennington Gap, Thompson, Haysi, Davenport, Davis and Lee County.
In Maryland, officials will explore ways to reduce underused space on the Perry Point campus, including construction of a new nursing home facility. Three new community clinics will open, in Baltimore, Owings Mills and southern Prince George's County.
 
Officials expect the plan when implemented will reduce vacant or obsolete space from 8.6 million square feet to slightly more than 4 million square feet. It would trim maintenance costs from $3.4 billion to $750 million by 2022, Principi said.
 
Congress will have to decide whether to fund all or part of the plan. The VA is seeking more than $1 billion for the effort next year.
 
"I think, generally speaking, everyone realizes that the future of the VA is at stake," Principi said.
 
Rep. James T. Walsh (R-N.Y.), chairman of the House Appropriations panel that funds the VA, said: "This effort will strengthen our veteran healthcare network nationwide, especially in rural areas. . . . While we may take issue with specific recommendations listed in the plan, overall it is an important step forward for the VA."
 
John A. Brieden III, national commander of the American Legion, said the plan is superior to a draft the VA circulated last year. That draft recommended closing seven hospitals. It also lacked language included in the final document that veterans at facilities that are being phased out will not lose services until alternative care sites are ready, he said.
 
� 2004 The Washington Post Company
 
 

 
Discounting Drugs
 
Washington Post Editorial
Saturday, May 8, 2004; Page A18
 
SINCE MONDAY, seniors without other prescription drug coverage have been able to purchase Medicare drug discount cards. According to government estimates, the cards could save seniors as much as 25 percent of their prescription drug costs. According to a Harvard study, the cards will save seniors, on average, 17.4 percent of their drug costs. According to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), "some seniors will be able to save on their medications when they use the cards. But many will not."
 
There is a reason these estimates vary: The cards are not being issued by the government but rather by more than 70 companies, including pharmacies, pharmacy benefit managers and insurance companies. The issuers are negotiating and setting the prices, and, by doing so, they are creating a market that does not yet exist -- largely due to a lack of information -- and whose behavior cannot be predicted. Once the program is fully up and running, it will, theoretically, be possible for seniors to shop around and compare the prices offered by various discount cards, not only to one another, but to Internet prescription drug companies, which seem to be offering prices lower than most of the discount cards. Tommy G. Thompson, secretary of health and human services, predicts that the higher quality of information will force prices down as companies compete with one another for seniors' business.
 
But nobody knows how or whether a market will work for drugs. The sheer quantity of information may drown seniors unused to choosing from dozens of plans. Medicare has set up a hotline, 1-800-Medicare, and a Web site to help seniors pick plans, but how well will an aging and disabled population be able to use them? Once seniors have chosen a plan, they have to stick with it -- even if the prices change -- at least until November. Will the companies selling the drug cards really compete to push prices down permanently, as Mr. Thompson predicts?
 
The answers to these questions matter, not so much because of the 25 percent or 17.4 percent that seniors might or might not save on their drugs over the next year and a half, but because many of these issues will arise again, on Jan. 1, 2006, when the prescription drug benefit itself finally kicks in. At that time, seniors will be asked to choose not just discount cards, but entire drug plans, also on a competitive basis, also weighing vast amounts of information. If Mr. Thompson is wrong, and the discount card program produces confusion, or fraud, or rising prices, then Congress and the country should seriously consider whether to go through with the drug benefit plan at all.
 
Politicians and seniors alike should monitor this smaller program to see whether it is really possible to inject competition into the strange prescription drug market. If it isn't, they should be prepared to say so.
 
� 2004 The Washington Post Company
 
 

 
Compromising on Smoking, Compromising on Health
 
Washington Post Letter to the Editor
Saturday, May 8, 2004; Page A17
 
It's remarkable that anyone can write a column criticizing Montgomery County's ban on smoking in restaurants ["Hold Your Fire on Smoking: Compromise Is Possible," Close to Home, May 2] without even mentioning the reason it was overwhelmingly adopted by the County Council: the well-documented dangers of secondhand smoke, including life-threatening asthma attacks, impaired heart function within 30 minutes and increased risk of lung cancer.
 
In considering what is necessary to protect the health of restaurant workers and patrons, the County Council specifically rejected the "air-filtration technologies" advocated by a few restaurant owners, and now by Margot Machol. The council heard expert testimony that the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers has concluded that "acceptable indoor air quality cannot be achieved in the presence of second-hand smoke." Filtration systems create the illusion of safety by reducing odor and visible smoke -- making people feel more comfortable -- hardly an "enlightened" approach that any community should model.
 
The evidence is also against those who imply, as Machol does, that restaurant smoking bans are bad for business. Objective studies of the economic impact of such laws in California and New York City show growth in the restaurant industry since their implementation. Montgomery County has received more than 30 applications for new restaurant licenses since the law took effect in October, a rate of more than one a week. There's a huge market for nonsmoking restaurants in Montgomery County, because 90 percent of adult residents don't smoke.
 
The county's law, the first in the region, has proved influential. Rockville, Takoma Park, Gaithersburg and Talbot County have approved and implemented laws requiring smoke-free restaurants. During the recently concluded session of the Maryland General Assembly, a bill to ban smoking in restaurants came within one vote of passing in the Senate Finance Committee.
 
The question isn't whether the District of Columbia or Maryland should approve such a law but which jurisdiction's officials will be the next to fulfill their duty to protect the public health.
 
Phil Andrews
Gaithersburg
 
The writer, a member of the Montgomery County Council, was the lead sponsor of the county's smoke-free-restaurant law.
 
� 2004 The Washington Post Company