Jun 12, 2007

Medical evidence overwhelmingly supports position on smoke free bars and restaurants

The crowd that jammed into the House Commerce Committee on Tuesday to hear testimony on House Bill 4163 that would ban smoking in all workplaces, including bars and restaurants, was so large a second committee room had to be set up in the House Office Building to accommodate the overflow crowd.

The bill was introduced by Rep. Brenda Clack, D-Flint, but Sen. Ray Basham, D-Taylor, is the driving force behind the smoking ban with Senate Bill 109. Basham said he first introduced the ban 10 years ago when he was in the Michigan House, and the measure has only received one committee hearing in those 10 years. Basham said it’s a public health issue, and second hand smoke is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States, killing more than 50,000 annually.

“The Surgeon General has said there is no amount of safe second-hand smoke,” he said. “This is an issue that we have a responsibility to address whether we are Republicans or Democrats.”

Basham said some 30 states have enacted a smoking ban, including Tennessee just last week, and he said entire countries that have a tradition of heavy smokers have banned smoking in bars and restaurants, including Ireland, Norway and Canada. He said Ontario saved some $1.7 billon in healthcare costs in the first year. He also said Detroit is losing convention business to nearby Windsor because they are smoke free.

“We truly are the smoking mitten,” Basham said. “People should not be put at risk in the workplace.”

Opponents of smoke free bars and restaurants say people go to bars to smoke when they have a drink or have a cigarette after a meal, and a ban on smoking will hurt business. Clack said that’s nonsense, and she said business has actually increased after bars and restaurants go smoke free, especially in light of statistics that say smokers are the minority in this country. Experts say only about 25 percent of the U.S. population still smokes.

“Going smokeless creates revenue and jobs,” she said. “When New York City went smokeless, in just the first year 6,000 restaurant jobs were created and revenue increased 8.7 percent.”

Backing up Basham’s claim that second-hand smoke is a killer was one of the most knowledge people in the country on the effects of deadly second-and smoke, Dr. Ronald Davis. Davis is the Director of the Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention at the Henry Ford Health System, and he is the president-elect of the American Medical Association (AMA). Dr. Davis also served as director of the Center for Disease Control’s Office on Smoking and Health from 1987 to 1991.

Davis said in addition to the 50,000 deaths caused by the more than 4,000 chemical compounds found in second hand smoke, many toxic, it also causes more than 790,000 doctor visits a year for non-fatal diseases, such as asthma, inner ear infections and other afflictions. He also said second-hand smoke is the single, greatest environmental hazard most people face, and he said separate smoking and non-smoking sections in restaurants does absolutely nothing to mitigate the harmful effects of second-hand smoke.

“The battle over the evidence has been won; second-hand smoke is harmful and has been proven a health hazard,” he said. “Separate sections in restaurants are about as effective as having a chlorinated section of a swimming pool and a non-chlorinated section of the pool.”

The only people against the smoking ban were some state association: the Michigan Restaurant Association, the Michigan Food and Beverage Association, the Michigan Business and Professional Association and the Michigan Licensed Beverage Association.

Ironically, Tuesday was the annual lobby day for the Michigan Restaurant Association where members come to Lansing to host a reception and lobby their Senator and Representative. The MRA said its sole objection is that bar and restaurant owners should be able to make the choice for themselves whether to go smoke free or not, and Andy Deloney, MRA public affairs director, said since 1998 smoke free restaurants have increased 96 percent.

If that’s the case why oppose the bill?

“What we continue to believe and what we continue to support is that the member makes the choice for themselves what their dining atmosphere is like,” Deloney said.

Because so many people wanted to speak, the committee did not vote on the bill, and Committee Chair Andy Meisner, D-Ferndale, plans to take more testimony on the bill in two weeks.

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