Smoke-Free Michigan- Or not

Earlier this week, the Michigan House voted on the Senate version of the SmokeFree Workplace bill. The vote tally was 50 yeas to 49 nays.  However, at least 56 yes votes were required to pass the bill.  Eleven members of the House were absent or abstained from voting. I would like to know where those legislators were. Not so much because this bill is the biggest item on their plate but because its closing in on the end of the fiscal year and the end of this session.

The current version of the law allows for zero exemptions.  No special treatment for casinos, cigar & martini bars or bingo halls.

Both sides of the issue have large vocal proponents.

Against the smoking ban are the Michigan Restaurant Association and the Michigan License Beverage Association. These business groups argue that bar and restaurant owners should get to decide for themselves whether or not to restrict smoking in their businesses. They also state that restricting smoking in bars and restaurants will hurt revenues and we shouldn’t be doing that, considering Michigan’s economy.

On the other side are a number of citizen groups, the American Lung Association and me.

On a personal level, I don’t like to pay for food that I can’t taste properly due to poorly ventilated smoking sections. I don’t like that my clothes and hair reek of smoke after leaving a bar. I am more likely to avoid a restaurant that still has smoking and I am much more likely to frequent someplace that goes smoke-free.

I do respect that business owners should generally be able to make their own decisions about how to run their places. I recognize that conflicts with my stance on the smoking ban. I have given careful consideration to my views on this issue. Its very easy to just turn up one’s nose and declare smoking a disgusting habit that should be heavily regulated and restricted. It is disgusting but one of the freedoms we need to guarantee in this country is the freedom to pursue your own happiness.

I think its important to consider the cost to the community to continue to allow smoking in public places. The health risks associated with chronic exposure to second-hand smoke are real and serious. The increased costs of caring for bartenders and waitstaff who develop diseases due to smoke exposure passes directly to the taxpayers. Whether one of these people has health insurance our not, the cost to provide medical care to smokers is reflected in our taxes (medicare/medicaid) and in our health insurance premiums. I don’t like involuntarily helping to pay the cost for an individual who chooses to smoke as it is. It really doesn’t seem fair to make all of us pay for someone exposed to second hand smoke because of their job. I’ve heard the arguments that if the bartender doesn’t like it, they should work elsewhere. Um yeah, have you seen the unemployment rate in this state? Realistically, someone in need of a job is not going to turn it down just because its smoky.

One of the sticky points has been about exemptions, specifically for casinos, cigar bars and bingo halls. One by one:

Bingo halls – Okay, I’ve never been in one. I remember my mom and grandma going when I was younger. Seemed like most bingo halls were run by churches. What would Jesus do, I guess.

Cigar bars – This one, I totally get. You can’t have a cigar bar without cigars. I don’t like cigars so much. But I don’t like the idea that a ban would put these places out of business. I do think that for places that decide to go cigar-friendly should the ban allow the exception, more power to them. Just no money from me to them. And I suspect that in the end, their customer base would suffer. A lot of people don’t like cigar smoke, many more than are bothered by cigarette smoke in a bar.

Casinos – Been to lots of these both in Michigan and out-state plus the Indian casinos. Some are better than others in terms of smoke control. In fact, the best I’ve been in, of late, was an Indian casino up near Traverse City. It was brand new though so perhaps the haze just hadn’t settled in yet. The thing about the Detroit casinos: I don’t think the regulars there are going to drive a couple of hours to an Indian casino, just to smoke while they gamble. If you had an Indian casino next door, that might be a different story. And the stats comparing Detroit vs. Windsor don’t hold up anymore due to the almost even exchange rate these days. Pretty soon, it could be in the favor of Canadians to come here to gamble.

In the end, I’d be supremely pleased if the legislature passed the ban in any form. I am not opposed to some exemptions but I think they should be very limited in scope. Chris suggested that restaurants and bars should be required to clearly post their smoking policies in lieu of the ban. He theorizes that places will use the requirements to say “sorry, no smoking” rather than post a big sign on the front door. I don’t see it but I do think if there are exemptions, those places exempted should have to post big signs indicating what they do and don’t allow. That way I can walk away before I step inside and have to add $20 to the cost of the meal for post-nosh dry cleaning.

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