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News Summary

Judge rules 4-county workplace smoking ban legal

Publication Date: 8/9/2006
  • Author:Fred Gray
  • Publication:Gaylord Herald Times

Charlevoix Circuit Judge Richard Pajtas, on Aug. 2, upheld the authority of the Northwest Michigan Community Health Dept. to adopt a workplace smoking regulation that applies to Otsego, Charlevoix, Emmet and Antrim counties.

The regulation has already been approved by all four counties. Health officer Jerry Chase said after the ruling the regulation is in effect and will be enforced as necessary.

Pajtas' ruling came in a lawsuit filed by five citizens who argued the state Legislature had pre-empted the authority of local health departments to regulate smoking.

He said the issue raised in the case was narrowly limited to one of pre-emption and did not include arguments over the dangers of secondhand smoke or government interference in individual rights.

Attorneys for both sides said they expected the test-case decision to be appealed all the way to the Michigan Supreme Court.

“This case is exceedingly important statewide,” said health department attorney Jim Young. Young said that although he had no direct evidence, he believed the plaintiffs had the secret backing of tobacco companies, a charge plaintiffs' attorney Sam Frederick firmly denied.

Young said he believed the plaintiffs had selected a small, rural northern Michigan county to test the authority of health departments throughout the state, because the plaintiffs believed the local agency had neither the resources nor the will to withstand a legal challenge, as larger counties might have.

He noted a number of other county health departments had passed similar regulations without challenge, although the Northwest Michigan Health Dept. was the first multicounty agency to pass such a ban.