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County Center smokers to get a shelter

Marty Maier knows what it's like to be an outcast.

"I got used to it when I came back from Vietnam after my second tour of duty," Maier said, flicking ash from a Benson & Hedges cigarette as he stood outside the County Center building Wednesday in downtown Tampa.

It has never been harder to light up, said Maier, a zoning technician with a pack-a-day habit who works in the Hillsborough County Building Department. Since the 28-story County Center opened in 1993, employees haven't been allowed to puff indoors. Restaurants in Florida were banned from allowing smoking last year.

So Maier, along with dozens of co-workers, huddles outside County Center to get his nicotine fix _ even when it rains or the temperature dips below 50 degrees, as it did Wednesday morning.

"They make it more and more difficult for us," Maier said. "I believe that if you accommodate one part of society, you should accommodate all others, too."

Wednesday, Maier found a friend in Commissioner Jim Norman, an avowed nonsmoker.

Norman got four other commissioners to support building a shelter for smokers outside the County Center along Morgan Street. Norman pushed for the shelter to ease his conscience, he said.

"I walk downtown all the time," he said. "And in any inclement weather, I see them squeezed in a 2-foot slot to avoid the rain. Out of decency for our employees, it'd be nice to have something like a bus stop cover."

Norman said he's not advocating smoking. He just doesn't think they'll stop, whether they have shelter or not.

Commission Chairman Tom Scott and Commissioners Kathy Castor, Ken Hagan and Ronda Storms backed Norman's proposal.

"Every visitor to this building is subjected to cigarette smoke because they have to pass our employees on their way in," Storms said. "This way, you give them someplace to go and people don't have to walk through a haze of smoke."

Commissioners Jan Platt and Pat Frank voted against the shelter.

"I'm not supporting anything that encourages people to smoke," Frank said, mentioning her husband, Richard Frank, a retired 2nd District Court of Appeal judge. He suffered a heart attack and had part of his foot removed because of his smoking, she said.

"They don't know what they're doing to themselves," Frank said. "I'm very opposed to this."

Maier, 55, said the shelter was a nice gesture.