Ann Arbor restaurants can keep their smoking sections, for now.

Paul Wong
Eastern Michigan University junior and Starbucks employee Michael Nitschky takes a cigarette break last week. (DEBBIE MIZEL/Daily)

The Michigan State Supreme Court refused Monday to hear the appeal in the case Michigan Restaurant Association vs. the City of Marquette, upholding the Marquette Circuit Court and the Michigan Court of Appeals in their earlier decisions that prohibit a smoking ban in area restaurants.

The City of Marquette adopted an ordinance in 1997 that banned smoking in restaurants starting in January of 1999. The Michigan Restaurant Association and six restaurants sued the city in 1998 and won. The City of Marquette appealed, taking the case to the State Supreme Court, but the Marquette Circuit Court’s decision was upheld and a restaurant smoke ban remained prohibited.

State law requires restaurants to maintain non-smoking sections but does not prohibit smoking. The State Supreme Court’s decision ensures that local governments do not enact ordinances more strict than the already existing law.

With rising evidence showing the harm that smoking causes, restaurant smoking bans have become a hotly debated issue. Ann Arbor restaurant owners have mixed feelings on a potential smoking ban.

Metzger’s Restaurant owner Heidi Metzger said she believes the decision should be in the hands of each restaurant owner.

“I believe that the ban on smoking is something up to the restaurant owners. It should be our choice,” she said.

Others, including Pete Poulos, owner of Frank’s Restaurant, said they believe the decision on a restaurant smoke ban should be left for the public. “Everybody has rights. If the whole public wants the law, then we should listen to them,” Poulos said.

Pavan Bhargava, an LSA sophomore, said he feels that while smoking should be allowed in restaurants, owners should improve the separation between smoking and non-smoking sections.

“Restaurant owners should make sure that non-smoking sections really do not have smoke,” he said.

The next step in propagating a restaurant smoke ban is for Washtenaw County to pass a regulation under the public health code.

Washtenaw County’s Corporation Counsel Curtis Hedger said a series of public hearings on the issue will occur in June, an order may be drafted in July and a regulation could be passed as early as August.

“We want to ensure that smoking sections are truly segregated from non-smoking sections, as you can be in a non-smoking section but the smoke permeates,” he said.

Washtenaw County Commissioner Leah Gunn, who is working on a countywide ban on smoking in public and private workplaces, said she feels there is a possibility that the Supreme Court’s decision rejecting the smoking ban on restaurants will be regulated.

“We are having a series of public hearings to know what the public thinks. It has to go through the public health director Helen Clement and then the Board of Commissioners will vote on it,” she said.

Some restaurant owners said they would be opposed to a ban no matter whose hands the decision rested upon because they said they would expect a decrease in revenue with the loss of smoking patrons.

Bill Zaagman, director of government for the MRA, does not think the government should get involved in the issue.

“Restaurants that rely on smoking patrons will see a larger decrease in sales. [The ban would be] detrimental to bars and restaurants, especially in college towns,” he said.

Zaagman also feels that the government should not intervene because smoking is legal and restaurants are private property, open to the public. Instead, he said he feels that the market should determine the smoking question.

“The decision should be left with each operator based on their clientele. Any smart restaurateur will meet people’s needs,” he said.

Merky’s Gomez, manager of the Huron Valley Region of the American Lung Association of Michigan, disagrees with this laissez-faire view on the smoke ban issue in restaurants.

“Unfortunately, people are not aware that second hand smoking is just as bad as directly smoking. The air can contain cigarette smoke, including toxic carcinogens,” she said.

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