Jun 17, 2007

Basham continues decade long quest to protect the public

State Sen. Ray Basham has had a long and varied career in public service, including a hitch in the U.S. Air Force, serving as an auxiliary police officer, as a union representative, a city official, a state Representative and as a Senator. For most of that public service Basham has been trying to protect the health of people from second-hand smoke.

Basham has been trying to ban smoking in the work place, including bars and restaurants, since he was first elected to the Michigan House 10 years ago, and that quest has continued on to the Senate. According to the U.S. Surgeon General, there is no safe amount of second-hand smoke, and secondhand smoke is the third leading preventable cause of death in the United States, killing more than 50,000 people annually.

“Second-hand smoke is not a nuisance, this is a health hazard,” Basham said last week in the Senate Democratic lounge, just off the Senate floor. “This is a serial killer.”

It was while Basham was working at Ford Motor Company that he first became aware of the issue of second-hand smoke. It was also while he was at Ford that Basham became directly involved with smoking and second-hand smoke as an employee support services representative for the United Auto Workers (UAW) Local 245.

“I was involved in smoking cassation and other programs with the UAW,” he said. “I had numerous complaints of second-hand smoke, and we dealt with them on a case-by-case basis.”

During Basham’s service on the Taylor City Council and Planning Commission, he noticed smoking during meetings and people ignoring no smoking signs, and smoking was even allowed in the state Capitol. Mounting evidence - such as food service workers are 50 percent more likely than the general population to develop lung cancer and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classified second-hand smoke as a Group A carcinogen - drove Basham to action.

“I had colleagues that would not come into the caucus room because they had ash trays on the chairs,” he said.

Basham’s bill, Senate Bill 109 in this session, has only had one committee hearing in his 10 years in the legislature. The House version - House Bill 4163 introduced by Rep. Brenda Clack, D-Flint, - received a hearing before the House Commerce Committee last week. Basham hopes passage in the House will prompt the Senate to finally take up the issue in the face of mounting evidence pointing to the harm second-hand smoke causes.

“This is not a partisan issue,” Basham said. “This is an issue whose time has come, and we simply have a responsibility to protect the public.”

Opposition to the ban has come primarily from the Michigan Restaurant Association (MRA), and some of the opposition has come because of the false belief that bars and restaurants will lose money and business if a smoking ban is implemented. But evidence shows the exact opposite is true; that restaurants in the 30 states that have the ban have seen increased revenue, such as in New York City that saw revenue increase 8.7 percent and the creation of 6,000 restaurant jobs in just the first year after it went smokeless.

The MRA claims individual bar and restaurant owners should make the choice to go smokeless or not, and officials from the MRA say restaurants are choosing to go smokeless on their own, saying that since 1998 smoke free restaurants have increased 96 percent. But Basham said that includes fast-food restaurants and carry-out, not just sit-down restaurants.

MRA officials say it’s an issue of freedom, and the government should not regulate or dictate to business owners what kind of dinning atmosphere they will have. But Basham says that’s ridiculous because government already regulates everything from the number of parking spaces a restaurant must have to the tempature of stored meat.

“Certinally we should be allowed to regulate indoor air quality,” he said. “Smoker’s have rights, but they end when the smoke goes up someone’s nose.”

The day of the hearing was also the legislative lobby day for the MRA in Lansing. Basham said he talked to representatives from some of the largest restaurant chains in the state, such as Red Robin and Buffalo Wild Wings. He said they support the ban, and there is a clear disconnect between the MRA board and its members.

“The board should talk to its members,” he said. “Those guys are dinosaurs on the board.”

The bill, at least the House version, is expected to be taken up in committee before the legislature takes its summer break, and Basham hopes it will be voted out of committee to the House floor.

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