By JASMINE WATTS
Capital News Service
LANSING—A group of Michigan residents and businesses is pushing to repeal a state law forbidding smoking in restaurants.
Nearly 90 percent of Michigan residents in an online poll want to allow business owners to decide if they want to allow smoking, according to the group that is pushing to repeal the 2010 prohibition on smoking in restaurants, bars and veteran halls, including outdoor eating areas.
Ban the Ban Michigan recently polled about 40,000 residents about the issue, said Sheri Woody, a representative of the group.
Ban the Ban Michigan has more than 5,000 volunteers who oppose the smoking ban, Woody said.
The group has proposed that owners of private businesses be allowed to decide whether to allow smoking in outdoor areas on their property and indoor areas for people ages 21 and up.
“We advocate a compromise every reasonable person can get behind,” said Woody, who owns the City Lounge bar in Romulus. “We’re not saying every business should be forced to allow smoking, only that property owners should be able to choose which legal activities take place in the property they own.”
Many owners of small businesses, including herself, have lost a large part of their customer base because of the ban, she said.
“Michigan has one of the strictest smoking bans in existence,” Woody said.
If a business serves alcohol in other states such as Kentucky and Indiana, it usually allows smoking, she said. Ohio residents travel to Indiana to smoke in restaurants and bars.
Ban the Ban suggests that risks of secondhand smoke are exaggerated by ban advocates to sway public opinion.
“The object of secondhand smoke is to shame smokers into changing their ‘naughty’ behavior,” Woody said. “It’s blatantly obvious to anyone who reads our site that the effects are extremely exaggerated at best. Smokers are not killing their friends and loved ones.”
Health advocates disagree.
It’s a scientific fact that there are many health risks associated with secondhand smoke, said Patricia Volz, vice president of communications of the Midland States of the American Lung Association.
“This is a public health issue,” Volz said. “Not only would this affect smoking and nonsmoking customers but also any workers involved, creating an unsafe work environment.
“It’s the American Lung Association’s stance that Michigan’s smoking ban laws should stay exactly where they are.”
The Kent County Health Department supports the current laws and regulations regarding smoking in Michigan businesses, said Adam London, the department’s administrative health officer.
“Smoking is a well-known killer, causing an estimated 480,000 premature deaths in the United States annually, and more than 16 million Americans currently suffer a decreased quality of life due to smoking-related illness,” London said.
“Since the inception of Michigan’s Smoke Free Air Law, Michigan’s residents and visitors have been protected from exposure to second hand smoke in bars, restaurants and businesses including hotels and motels,” London said.
About 7,000 clients of local health departments were surveyed by the Department of Community Health after the ban was put into effect. Seventy-three percent of them favored the law.
“The Kent County Health Department feels that any relaxation of this regulation would be counterproductive to the health and welfare of the citizens who live, work and play here,” London said.
Ban the Ban Michigan does not yet have legislation to repeal the ban that is supported by a lawmaker, but Woody urged people to contact their representatives and explain how they feel about the smoking ban.
By JASMINE WATTS