Little changes here and there won’t resolve legitimate issues
@Opinion:Now a year out from the effective date of the state’s ban on smoking in most public places, we’re more convinced than ever that the law needs more than a tweak here and there. It’s riddled with oversights and contradictions, and is putting a crimp on some businesses to the point that some, particularly bars, reportedly are on the brink of closing their doors. In addition, the smoking ban has taken a big bite out of the state’s Keno game revenue at a time when Michigan is sorely in need of cash. Most of these issues can be adequately addressed if lawmakers give restaurant and bar owners/managers and private clubs the authority to decide whether they will permit smoking.
Under the current law, a public place where smoking is prohibited is defined as an enclosed indoor area owned or operated by a state or local government and used by the public; an enclosed indoor area used by the public as an educational facility, a home for the aged, a nursing home, hospice, or hospital long-term care unit; an auditorium, arena, theater, museum, concert hall, or any other facility during the period of its use for a performance or exhibit of the arts. Also included are bowling alleys, bingo halls, shopping malls, mechanic shops, child care centers, and hotels and motels. Also covered under the ban are veteran halls and other private clubs that have a food service license. The law also says that indoor common areas of apartment and condominium buildings must be smoke-free.
As far as food and beverage service establishments, smoking is not allowed in any indoor area, or in outdoor areas where patrons receive and consume food and beverages; however, smoking is allowed in outdoor areas where food and drinks aren’t served.
The ban was conceived and enacted as a workers’ health and welfare initiative, as secondhand smoke has been proven to cause cancer, heart disease and asthma attacks in both smokers and non-smokers. We won’t quibble over the harmful effects of secondhand smoke, but we do take issue with the worker protection nature of the statute.
If the lawmakers who enacted the smoking ban really cared about employee health and welfare, they wouldn’t have enacted so many exemptions. Apparently, those who work in restaurants and bars, for example, are worthy of such protection, but not the people working at casinos and tobacco speciality stores. It’s an inherently unfair distinction — which also gives the casinos an advantage over other businesses where alcohol is served, namely bars.
While smoking is prohibited in common areas, apartment and condominium buildings are exempt from the law, yet a building owner has the option to make their building smoke-free, including all living units.
One of the most onerous aspects of the law is that it applies to private clubs. As such, even if all club members are OK with fellow members smoking, a WWII vet who stormed the beaches at Normandy, for example, can’t light up in their own private club.
Some current lawmakers recognize problems with the law, and have offered up bills to address them. One would allow bars and restaurants to let people smoke on outdoor patios at the owner/manager’s discretion, even if food or beverages are served on the patio — which seems reasonable but would create another set of contradictions and unequal treatment for employees, patrons, and businesses. Another would allow smoking in rooms where no food or beverages are served. Yet another would exempt war veterans’ organizations from the smoking ban, so at least veterans could smoke if they choose — but not Elks, Moose, Eagles and the members of other private clubs.
One of the ban’s results has been increased business at some bars and restaurants, with former and new patrons along with families frequenting the establishments without fear of secondhand smoke. And we’ve heard from some food and beverage service employees who enthusiastically praise the ban.
However, other establishments are reporting that business has actually gotten worse now that cigarettes, pipes and cigars are no longer allowed indoors or in outdoor areas where food or beverages are served. Some bars are now struggling to stay open due to the loss of customers. Maintaining a law that jeopardizes businesses and threatens to put people of work doesn’t jive with the pro-business, jobs-jobs-jobs mantra emanating from Lansing. It also doesn’t bode well for the state’s already dwindling revenue stream.
If the Legislature can see fit to let restaurants, bars, and private clubs decide whether to allow smoking, all those problems would be eliminated — or at least minimized. Apparently it’s OK for apartment and condominium buildings to decide, so why not food and beverage service establishments?
There will always be a market for smoke-free establishments, and one for those that permit smoking. Let the businesses decide which niche they will serve. Those who abhor secondhand smoke will have a haven. Others who want to light up can. Businesses will stay in business, and employees will be able to work in either environment they choose — and both will keep sending those tax dollars to the state.
Lawmakers can make good on their profession of support for keeping government out of people’s lives and off businesses’ backs by letting the market decide where one can and can’t smoke.