Most people are familiar with the negative health risks associated with smoking. To improve the health of workplace environments, 37 states have enacted some sort of statewide ban on indoor smoking in public places. While the Michigan legislature has repeatedly taken up this issue, legislators have been too stubborn to compromise and approve a bill. With the state Senate likely to take up the issue again later this week, legislators must finally agree on and pass a version of the bill that will protect the health of workers and make reasonable exceptions for certain businesses.
Bills to ban smoking statewide aren’t new to the Michigan legislature. Last year, a bill that would have banned smoking in public areas like restaurants and bars died before it reached the governor’s desk. Ultimately, the Senate and House of Representatives couldn’t agree on exempting some businesses from the law. The bill that the legislature takes up later this week will likely be similar, and will face a similar debate over whether to make exceptions for businesses like cigar bars and casinos.
The dangers of secondhand smoke are the primary reason a smoking ban should be enacted. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1,300 people die from smoking-related causes every day in the United States. Complications from secondhand smoke are thought to be responsible for 11 percent of these deaths. Most people can lessen their risk by avoiding smokers, but those who work in smoke-filled environments don’t have that option. A smoking ban would create environments free of health risks for employees of restaurants and bars who currently have no choice but to risk secondhand-smoke exposure to keep their jobs.
Critics of a ban have said that it would hurt businesses, driving away customers who smoke. But the opposite may be true. Smoke-free environments are attractive to potential customers. Non-smokers could frequent establishments that they may have previously avoided, as there are far more non-smokers than smokers. And evidence from states that have passed similar laws is good news for the ban. Tax revenue and demand for liquor licenses, for example, increased in New York after the implementation of a similar indoor public smoking ban.
That said, some exemptions to the ban are understandable. It’s probably unreasonable to expect businesses that exist for the sole purpose of smoking and tobacco use — like cigar shops and smoke bars — to close their doors to smoking. Losing the ability to let their customers smoke would be tough for them, and Michigan’s economy can’t afford to lose any more small businesses. And it could be expected that people who choose to work in these establishments are aware and accepting of the consequences of secondhand smoke.
If these exemptions are what this bill needs in order to pass, the legislature shouldn’t mind them. Michigan workers in bars and restaurants need the protection that this bill will offer them. State legislators must not fail — once again — in their obligation to protect employees from the dangers of secondhand smoke.