If you’ve passed a high school health class, you know smoking is bad for your health and that secondhand smoke is just as bad. Armed with that basic knowledge, 35 states have taken action to prevent the bad habits of some from harming everyone else breathing the same air. Last spring, Michigan looked like it would become No. 36 by passing a ban on smoking in public places. But the state legislature got caught up in the details, and a lot of fighting and very little action have followed. What we need to remember is that Michigan stills needs a smoking ban to protect innocent employees and people from secondhand smoke and make businesses more welcoming.

Michigan’s fight over a smoking ban began last Spring. The state Senate and House of Representatives both passed versions of the bill as long ago as last May. Those bills differed slightly, though. The Senate’s version banned smoking in all indoor places. The House’s bill banned smoking in restaurants and bars but made exceptions for some establishments like casinos and smoke shops. Though most people expected the two chambers to reach a deal during the politically secure lame-duck sessions, the two chambers are still fighting over it seven months later.

This unacceptable lack of progress has come at the expense of many people’s health. In public buildings, people often have little control over whether or not they are exposed to harmful secondhand smoke. This is especially true for employees at restaurants and clearing the smoke out of public indoor areas is necessary to protect these people from health risks they didn’t agree to take.

Protecting these people comes with an economic advantage, too. Contrary to what many restaurant and bar owners believe, a smoking ban should actually provide an economic boost to these businesses. While the bans may alienate some smokers, smoke-free buildings attract more customers who don’t want to inhale smoke. In other states, the non-smokers have outweighed the smokers. A study conducted a year after the smoking ban took effect in New York, for example, found that tax revenue, demand for liquor licenses and air quality all increased substantially after the ban took effect.

Analysts predict that Michigan’s smoking-ban legislation will be reintroduced at the beginning of the legislature’s 2009 session and that the two chambers of the legislature will find one on which they can agree. If the legislature fails, some have suggested that a ballot initiative calling for a smoking ban could be created and put to a vote in 2010.

There’s simply no good reason that a smoking ban should have to come about via ballot initiative — the legislature is responsible for making this decision, and the job shouldn’t be passed off to the voters of Michigan. Passing a smoking ban should be an immediate priority for the 2009 legislative session, and Michigan state representatives and senators need to be held accountable for getting this legislation finished.

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