Politicians are known for their huffing and puffing. But as the Michigan state legislature heads into its lame duck session, hopefully it will help keep the rest of us from having to do as much of that. Atop the list of potential projects is a long-overdue ban on smoking in public places, a ban that came close to passing this summer but was torpedoed by the Republican-controlled Senate. Though smoking is a personal choice, the consequences for the people nearby are a much more important consideration — one that warrants the state legislature’s protection.

This summer, the Michigan state legislature almost passed a bill identical to the one being considered now. In it version of the bill, the House of Representatives banned smoking in public places, with exceptions for businesses that rely heavily on revenue from smoking, like smoking bars. In its version of the bill, the Senate allowed no exceptions. Because no compromise could be reached, the bill never became law.

While the bill died this summer, the problem didn’t. By now, most people should know that smoking has terrible consequences for your health, including an increased risk of deadly diseases like lung cancer and emphysema. Smokers know that, and accept those risks. But non-smokers don’t. When they are involuntarily exposed to secondhand smoke, which inevitably happens despite efforts to maintain separate smoking sections and proper ventilation, these non-smokers are being unfairly punished for someone else’s personal choice.

This is a problem for employees who work at places where smoking is allowed. The wait staff at restaurants, for example, have no choice whether or not their customers light up, but the secondhand smoke still affects them. These people often can’t just go find another job for the benefit of their health, because those jobs might not exist. And these workers aren’t getting better health care benefits to cover their potential illnesses. A job should be a healthy environment, not one where worker have to worry about choosing between money and health.

Opponents of the bill argue that businesses will lose money and customers if smokers are forced to move onto the sidewalk to enjoy a cigarette. That argument, however, goes both ways. People who avoid cigarette smoke would be more likely to flock to bars and restaurants if they become smoke-free. Smokers can relax outside without having a detrimental effect on those eating or drinking around them.

New York and Ohio have already passed similar smoking bans. While some bar owners in New York complained of lost revenue, most restaurants and bars have increased business since the smoking ban took effect. Air quality in bars and restaurants has gone up, and that’s good news for everyone, workers and patrons alike.

It is time for the Michigan state legislature to resume its role of protecting the public health. Businesses will not suffer if smokers take a break to step outside for a few minutes. And then we can all breathe a little easier.

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