Coleen Deems sat down after every Ravens season and wrote a letter to the team, asking it to ban smoking at the stadium.
This year, when her 10-year-old grandson looked up and said, “I have to hold my breath,” while walking past a designated smoking area at M&T Bank Stadium, the 11-year season-ticket holder became more determined and considered tracking down the personal email address of team owner Steve Bisciotti.
She didn’t have to, and the Ravens won’t need to decide how to deal with the divisive issue. The Maryland Stadium Authority on Monday announced a complete ban on smoking at both of Baltimore’s stadiums.
Stadium authority executive director Michael Frenz said the new policy brings Oriole Park at Camden Yards and M&T Bank Stadium more in line with other stadiums across the country.
“We’ve had complaints over time,” Frenz said. “So as we looked into the issue, we saw that we were a little bit permissive.”
Camden Yards was one of 10 major league baseball venues that designated smoking areas within the ballpark last season, according to the American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation. Many stadiums — including Nationals Park — created a process to allow fans to leave the stadium and return after smoking. (In Washington, you need your original ticket stub plus a special wristband.) Other facilities, like Toronto’s Rogers Centre, do not allow re-entry under any circumstance because of security concerns.
M&T Bank Stadium was one of 11 NFL venues to reserve space within the stadium gates for smokers, according to the foundation. It allowed smoking in designated areas of the concourse and near gates.
Deems said the smoke was particularly heavy during halftime, and that it was impossible to walk through the concourse without “reeking” afterward. She also said security guards were reticent to enforce rules, which allowed for violators to be ejected.
“This simplifies things and hopefully will make it clear cut when someone is in violation,” said Deems, who said she resisted subjecting others to second-hand smoke during her 27 years as a smoker. “You have to accommodate the people who don’t smoke, and there’s only one way to do that: don’t allow smoking. At all.”
Frenz said the Orioles and Ravens agreed to the new regulation without hesitation. Both teams have said they’ll implement plans to allot space for smokers outside of the stadiums but did not have the details worked out Monday.
The ban covers all areas within the stadium gates, and extends to within 25 feet of any entry, outdoor air intake or operable window of the stadium structures. Smoking will be allowed in the parking lots.
The ban takes effect March 4. M&T Bank Stadium hosts a pair of NCAA lacrosse games March 23, while Opening Day at Camden Yards is April 5.
The new ban covers only lit tobacco. Chewing tobacco and increasingly popular electronic cigarettes will be allowed.
“It takes 23 feet for second-hand tobacco smoke to dissipate enough that it doesn’t carry the carcinogens and toxins in open air,” said Dr. Donald Shell, the interim director for the state’s center for tobacco prevention and control. “Over that much space at a stadium, even if it is open air, that harms a lot of people.”
When the new regulation went up for public comment, Frenz said, no one spoke for or against it. Many smokers said Monday that they agreed with the rule and felt subjecting others to dangerous, odorous smoke was not their right.
Nick Durm, a 28-year-old musician from Parkville, said he believes having space outside the stadium to smoke is adequate, although it should not be inconvenient to reach. But he also believes more fans will turn to electronic cigarettes, which create a vapor containing nicotine. He’s seen people in bars across the country use them.
Shell said research on the effects of “e-cigarettes” so far is inconclusive.
Several fans said they will consider selling their personal seat licenses to Ravens games because of the new rule, including Gary Hemmeter.
“I consider this discrimination,” wrote Hemmeter, who has had his seat license for 15 years, in an email.
While some professional sports franchises survey fans for feedback on smoking policies, representatives from the Orioles and Ravens said they had collected no such data.