Laws allowing restaurant patrons and bar-goers to puff inside look likely to soon go up in smoke. The state House of Representatives is expected to vote this week on legislation that would outlaw smoking in places of employment. Though smokers may be worried about maintaining their habit while out on the town, the positive health consequences for Michigan employees far outweigh a little inconvenience for smokers.
The state House, which first passed its own bill suggesting a similar ban last year, is scheduled to vote next week on the Senate’s version which passed earlier this month. After months of waiting, this represents real progress – the Republican-controlled Senate was often to be considered the major barrier to any real movement on the issue.
While the two bodies still need to iron out a few details, reconciling their respective version, it appears that soon smoking in places of employment will soon become a thing of the past.
And that’s good news. Though smoking is certainly a personal decision, that decision impacts restaurant employees in ways that are out of their control. A report from U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona last year made it clear that a total ban on smoking in the workplace is the only way to protect workers from the ill effects of second-hand smoke. Restaurant and bar employees who are forced to breath in toxic fumes all day at work are suffering because of the “individual choices” of a few. The ban will remedy this problem by giving all employees the right to work in a healthy environment, a measure that recognizes that the boundaries of personal freedom end where others’ begin.
The ban’s opponents point to the inconvenience for smokers. But right now it’s employees of restaurants and bars who are being not just inconvenienced but endangered because they can’t leave their smoke-filled environments. The little extra effort it takes smokers to simply step outside seems like a manageable compromise.
There are a few discrepancies between the two versions of the bill. The House version exempts certain businesses from the ban such as cigar bars and horseracing tracks, where as the Senate’s ban affects all workplaces. Proponents of the House’s version argue that businesses specifically geared toward smoking, like hookah and cigar bars, hire employees who understand that they will be exposed to ambient smoke and should therefore not be subject to the same set of rules. While that point is fair, it’s not a sticking point large enough to warrant holding up such a vital piece of public health and workplace safety legislation.
It would never be reasonable to prohibit smoking completely – as the adage goes, to each his own. But it is simply not fair to subject employees to the dangers of second-hand smoke. A person makes a choice to be a smoker – a non-smoking bar employee does not. This legislation, by cleaning up the air in workplaces and creating a healthy working environment, represents a fair middle ground for smokers and non-smokers alike.