May 28, 2009
Editorial says $2.65 billion in annual health care costs is too trivial for the Legislature to address
Apparently, the editorial board of the Livingston County Daily Press & Argus thinks that $2.65 billion in annual health care costs in Michigan is too trivial for the Michigan Legislature to address.
The editorial in Thursday’s edition on the workplace smoking ban has the headline of ‘Stalemate over smoking distracts from key issues,’ and the paper continues to display a disturbing understanding of how the Legislature really works. Their contention is that the public health issue that kills 3,000 nonsmokers a year from lung cancer alone is too trivial to undertake because the state’s largest employers are near bankruptcy.
Apparently they believe 148 opinionated men and women with different views should get in one room and work on nothing but economic issues. The fact is that the Legislature is broken down into committees of five to nine people dealing with specific areas, from Agriculture to Transportation. It’s much easier for that small group to negotiate and then make a recommendation to the full House and Senate to debate and vote on. Could you imagine the din and confusion if 110 people tried to negotiate? There are 18 standing committees in the Senate and 24 in the House, and it’s much easier to work in small groups and present the result to the larger group to vote on. It has worked that way in the Federal Congress for more than 200 years.
This is the second editorial where they gig the Legislature for daring to consider the “frivolous” workplace-smoking ban instead of addressing the state’s economy, and even the paper’s general manager, who has been in journalism for more than 20 years, displays a disturbing ignorance of the legislative process with his own misinformed column last year.
The editorial displays a total ignorance of the issue claming, “This issue has been in front of the Legislature repeatedly in recent years.” That is simply not true. It has been introduced every session for the past decade without even a single committee hearing until last session when a hearing was finally held in June 2007 and both bodies of the Michigan Legislature passed a version of the ban.
They are even wrong about the politics of the issue, saying “the Republicans there had clearly indicated they didn't want to see a ban enacted at all, so they were making an issue of the Democrats' casino exemption.” Not true. This is a nonpartisan issue, and a look at who voted for and against the ban would show them that. The simple fact is that this has widespread support on both sides of the aisle. The Senate Majority Leader is the one who does not want it, and he is using the casino issue as political cover. The editors should insist that he allow the issue to get into a conference committee as soon as possible and he assign members who will really try and work out a compromise.
This claim really shows a lack of understanding of the issue and their failure to do the slightest bit of research. “Those who advocate the ban may argue that it is a public health issue, and so see this as an important issue. Given such a perspective, perhaps this bill was a top priority, back when the ban was first proposed years ago.”
When you consider they use the words, “may argue that it is a public health issue” you begin to see the problem. The U.S. Surgeon General said 20 years ago secondhand smoke was deadly and causes health problems, and study after study backs that research up. That there is any doubt and that the editors use the word “may” illustrates the problem.
Perhaps an editorial supporting the ban or asking why Livingston County’s two representatives in the House voted against the bill would be more helpful. If they are against it, then say so and say why. They could have pointed out that 37 other states have already enacted a smoking ban, including the latest to do so; the tobacco road states of Virginia and North Carolina.
If they want to keep harping on the economy, fine. Instead of attacking the legislature that can do nothing to improve the lot of the state’s largest employers and the national recession, how about advocating for something that will save taxpayers money?
Smoking is very costly and is literally sucking the air out of Michigan’s economy. Smoking directly results in $2.65 billion in annual health care costs in Michigan, of which $881 million is born by the state Medicaid program. In fact, each household spends $597 annually in state and federal taxes due to smoking-caused government expenditures. Smoke-free worksites would eliminate these extra health care costs and would do so with virtually no implementation costs.
Furthermore, by creating a smoke-free work environment, business owners can eliminate a variety of associated costs, including higher health, life, and fire insurance premiums, higher worker absenteeism, lower work productivity, and higher workers' compensation payments. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates the cost savings of eliminating secondhand smoke in the workplace to be between $35 and $66 billion a year. Given the state of Michigan's economy we really can’t afford not to go smoke-free.