Dec 11, 2009

Newspaper misses the point on workplace smoking ban

As the smoke clears following the passage of the historic workplace smoking ban yesterday that includes bars and restaurants, it has been interesting to read all the congratulatory messages and the news report.

Not surprisingly, Livingston County’s Legislative delegation all voted against protecting the public from deadly secondhand smoke. All three are Republicans, but that should not matter in this important, bipartisan public health bill.

Reps. Bill Rogers, R-Brighton, and Cindy Denby, R-Handy Township, joined 23 other Republicans in voting no, but 20 of their fellow caucus members did the right thing and voted yes. Sen. Valde Garcia, R-Marion Township, joined 12 Republicans voting no, but nine did the right thing.

I respect Garcia, but his reasons for voting no were disappointing. He told the Livingston County Daily Press & Argus that many restaurants that allow smoking are investing in ventilation systems to prevent smoke from permeating buildings. He said the system of offering both smoking and non-smoking sections still works.

Really? Does he believe smoke obeys a non-smoking signs? If the Senate had held a hearing on the bill like the House did, he would have heard from Dr. Greg Holzman, the medical officer from the Michigan Department of Community Health (DCH), who testified in committee last March that there is no ventilation system invented that can clear out secondhand smoke.

My hometown paper’s editorial on this historic victory was not a surprise, considering they have called the 12-year fight unimportant and displayed a disturbing lack of understanding on how the Legislature works. But it was confusing, and it left readers unsure of what their position really is, other than they had a hole to fill as deadline approached.

It starts with this ridiculous gem: “Do Michigan lawmakers really want to take a position that it is OK to kill casino workers as long as there are some jobs saved in the process?
Apparently so.”

Please. That statement makes no sense when you later go on to say, “If business owners want to allow their customers to smoke, they should be allowed to. The public is free to choose other establishments if they don't like a smoke-filled environment.”

If it kills people, and it does, then it's not a freedom issue it’s a pubic health issue. The reality is that secondhand smoke kills. In fact, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has classified secondhand smoke as a Group A carcinogen containing 4,000 chemicals, including 43 cancer-causing chemicals. In Michigan alone 3,000 people die each year from secondhand smoke. Smokers' rights end when their personal choices negatively impact the health and well-being of nonsmokers, and what freedom is it that allows their addiction to affect the 80 percent of the population that does not smoke? This is especially important given that secondhand smoke is the third leading preventable cause of death in the U.S.

As for jobs, it will have zero effect. How do we know? We have the results from the 37 other states with smoking bans, as well as from the many countries with smoking bans, like Ireland, Italy, Canada and Turkey.

After New York went smoke-free, studies were conducted to evaluate the impact of the smoking ban on restaurants and bars. The results showed an increase in employment and sales tax receipts from these establishments. Regardless, there have been absolutely no studies that show a negative economic impact resulting from a state-wide or country-wide smoking ban. In fact, two recent studies in Michigan reaffirm that fact.

The University of Michigan Center for Local, State, and Urban Policy released a study on May 29, 2009 that concluded the state's bars and restaurants would not be hurt by a proposed workplace smoking ban. Another recent study in the spring of 2008 by the leading Lansing research firm Public Sector Consultants Inc. - called “Smokefree workplaces: The Impact of House Bill 4163 on the Restaurant and Bar Industry in Michigan” – also found a smoking ban had no negative economic impact on bars and restaurants.

It should also be pointed out that the exception only applies to the gamming floor, not the casino’s bars and restaurants, which are smokefree. If anyone thinks we have giving up on banning smoking in the casinos, they are mistaken.

I believe a clean bill with no exceptions would have passed the House yesterday, thanks to the new freshman Representatives. Last session before it ended and all bills not signed into law died, the House took up a clean bill. It got the majority of votes, but it failed to get the required 56 votes to pass. I think this time around it would have gotten the required number.

It would have picked up Livingston County’s two House votes.

The fight is not over, and strange things have happened during Lame Duck.

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