May 28, 2008

Watered down smoking ban passes the House

LANSING - The Michigan House approved the smoking ban today that bans smoking in all workplaces, including bars and restaurants, but the real test will again come in the Senate.

By a vote of 65-39, the House approved a substitute to House Bill 5074 that banned smoking in workplaces, with the exception of non-Native American casinos, bingo-halls and so-called “cigar bars.” The bill now goes back to the Senate for approval.

The House originally approved House Bill 4163 back in December that included the same exceptions or “carve outs” by just 10 votes. However, Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop bottled the bill up in committee and vowed not to take it up. However, intense pressure from residents compelled him to allow a vote on the bill, and earlier this month the Senate approved it by a vote of 25-12. However, that version had no exceptions or carve outs.

Intense lobbying by the Detroit casinos that feared they would lose business to a casino more than a 100 miles away prompted the substitute bill with the exceptions.

It’s unclear if Bishop will allow a second vote on the bill, or even if it will pass with the carve outs.


Anonymous said...

It will be interesting to see. Opinions are mixed on what the Senate might do.

Although the focus is on casinos, the House bill also exempts cigar bars and tobacco shops, which as the Free Press recently noted, does make sense. Nonsmokers do not enter nor work in such places. 49 other states permit smoking in tobacco shops, and "cigar bars," narrowly defined, are legal in New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Mexico, Colorado and several others.

As for the casinos, it isn't just Soaring Eagle that upsets the them. It's the fact smokers will have to leave the gambing floor to take breaks 1-2 times an hour. Even if that's just once an hour, that's still 20 minutes or so away from the machine to re-enter through security.

States with casino smoking bans have lost money, at least for a while and layoffs have been the result. It's impossible to say if the bans solely caused the drops, but they certainly didn't help business.

The Detroit casinos are also upset because they pay a lot more taxes than any Indian casinos and now the rules are being changed just as the permanent facilities open.

Communications guru said...

Yes, it will be interesting to see. I think if Bishop allows a vote it will pass, but by a smaller margin. I’m not sure what a “cigar bar” is. If they serve alcohol it’s a bar. I remember when I was a smoker; I went to the store to buy cigarettes, not to smoke them. In this economy, a job is a job, and I can see a non-smoker working in a so-called cigar bar.

I’m not sure casinos lose money after a smoking ban. The PSC said otherwise, at least I think it meant casinos. Just 21 percent of the population smokes and that number is shrinking everyday. I find it hard to believe less than a quarter of the population controls so much money.

I have heard from many people who say they cannot go to a bar or restaurant because they are allergic to smoke it affects their health, but I can’t understand why a smoker can’t duck out the door for 2-5 minutes for a smoke.
Thanks for the comment. It was nice not to be insulted in a comment for a change.

Communications guru said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

You're welcome. I only post to a handful of blogs, and then only occasionally, but I don't insult anyone -- at least on purpose.

At least you get replies. I run a blog in my professional life and I have received less than a dozen responses in the last 6 months. I'd welcome an insult.

As for the smoking ban, I smoke cigars occasionally and have been in many cigar bars around the country. A "cigar bar" if you use the definition included in the House bill and the one used in the states I mentioned, makes a percentage of its income off the sale of tobacco, not including vending machine cigarettes.

In Michigan's bill, the threshold is 10%. That is the same as New York and Connecticut. Some states require as much as 50% or 60% tobacco revenue; others like Colorado only require 5%.

It's not as easy as it may sound to meet that level, and most states also only grandfather in existing cigar bars, so new ones don't spring up to circumvent a ban. You have to verify the tobacco revenue.

I was in New York a few months ago. In all of Manhattan, only about a dozen bars are "cigar/tobacco bars" and all had to be in operation prior to 2002.

Employees there have to know a lot about cigars and almost everyone I have met smokes them. A nonsmoker working at a cigar bar makes as much sense as a non-drinker working as a wine steward. It doesn't happen.

If smoking is banned at a cigar bar, it ceases to be a "cigar bar" and employees will be probably be laid off if the bar is sold. I've never heard of a cigar bar worker asking for a smoke-free workplace.

As for casinos, as I said in my last post, PSC only mentioned casinos in passing, focusing on the bar/restaurant industry. I won't pick apart the report. They're right that smoking bans don't lead to wholesale business losses.

But if you check news articles on Ontario, Colorado, Atlantic City and Illinois -- all states with full or partial smoking bans -- gambling tax revenue has dropped, at least in the short term.

The reasons can be debated, but the bans have not led to increased revenue. The major casino companies mention smoking bans as reasons for losses in their public stock reports, so they at least believe they have an effect.

From what I've read in the papers, Andy Dillon and most of the Detroit caucus believes it as well.

Thanks for posting the item.