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New legislation to be introduced to amend Smoke-Free Air Law

Publication Date: 6/23/2011
  • Author:Marina Csomor
  • Publication:The State News

More than a year after Michigan's Dr. Ron Davis Smoke-Free Air Law was adopted, some state lawmakers have introduced legislation that once again would allow smoking in East Lansing bars and restaurants.

Four separate bills have been introduced by state Reps. Doug Geiss, D-Taylor, Tom McMillin, R–Rochester Hills, and Tim Melton, D-Pontiac, as well as state Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, that would allow smoking in Michigan businesses in either smoking rooms, on outdoor patios or in licensed clubs, including veterans’ organizations.

Because the decline in business for restaurants and bars has been dramatic, exemptions to the smoking ban should be considered, Melton said. Patrons previously accustomed to frequenting such establishments and enjoying smoking cigarettes while they ate and drank no longer bring their business.

"I voted for the smoking ban, but I also know we have business interests, (and) we would at least like to hear their concerns a year later," Melton said.

Judy Stewart, campaign manager of the Michigan Campaign for Smokefree Air and director of state government relations for the American Cancer Society, said the smoke-free law is receiving overwhelming support.

According to a poll conducted in May by the American Cancer Society on behalf of the Michigan Campaign for Smokefree Air, 74 percent of the public supports the ban.

The ban also has improved the health of employees exposed to smoke at the establishments at which they work.

According to a study conducted by the Michigan Department of Community Health, 40 bar employees from various Michigan counties experienced reduced allergic symptoms, cough, phlegm production, shortness of breath and wheezing after the smoking ban.

Employees and others who were exposed to secondhand smoke no longer are at risk for cancer, lung disease and other complications from the smoke they inhaled at restaurants and bars, Stewart said.

But with his bill, Jones is advocating a separate smoking room in select establishments where no service would be provided -- a room he said employees wouldn't need to enter at all. There still would be no smoking allowed in restaurants -- only in taverns or clubs, which cater to an audience accustomed to smoking.

"We're telling them they can’t come together and use a legal product, and that’s terribly un-American," he said.

Melton said his bill would create a compromise between advocates of the smoking ban and businesses, allow patrons to smoke and be served on only the patios of Michigan bars and restaurants.

The negative impacts of cigarette smoke would be mitigated because of the open air surrounding these establishments' patios, he said.

Although some businesses are not satisfied with the smoking ban to which they have to adhere, Mark Piavis, special programs chief in the Bureau of Environmental Health at the Ingham County Health Department, said compliance with the smoke-free law in Ingham County has been exceptional. Allowing for exemptions to the law would not be beneficial, he said.

"As for the strides they've made, that would be a setback," Piavis said.

Making sure smoking only occurs in designated smoking rooms, patios or clubs would be difficult to enforce, Piavis said. It also would be expensive for businesses to create rooms with the ventilation systems such rooms would require.

Jones and Melton said they hope their bills will be discussed in the state Legislature this fall.