When Henry Cohen opened the Black Pearl on Main Street in September, he had to make a decision about the identity of his martini bar.

PHOTO ILLUSTRATIONS BY BENJI DELL/Daily

As an ex-smoker who takes the damaging effects of second-hand smoke seriously, Cohen wanted to make his bar a non-smoking establishment.
“I think (smoking) makes it unpleasant for people who are nonsmokers,” he said. “In fact I know.”

But because smoking is so deeply ingrained in the Ann Arbor bar scene, Cohen didn’t think he had a choice.

“Here’s the truth: I would love to make my restaurant non-smoking, but because we’re a brand new restaurant that’s just been established, I can’t take the economic risk of losing the business,” he said. “There are competitors just down the street who (allow smoking).”

But with the legislation banning indoor smoking gaining more and more steam in the Michigan state legislature, Cohen might not have to wait for long to banish smoking from his business.

Rep. Brenda Clack (D–Flint) introduced a bill to the Michigan House of Representatives last year that would ban indoor smoking in all public places with the exception of cigar bars, bingo halls and casinos.

“We knew it was a battle from the beginning, trying to convince the business community that it definitely would not hurt business,” Clack said.

The bill sat in the House for more than 10 months, going through a number of amendments before it was finally passed by a 56 to 46 vote on Dec. 5.

On May 8, the Republican-majority state Senate passed the bill —25 yays to 12 nays — but not without making some significant changes.

The Senate’s version of the ban was a complete ban on smoking in public places, no exemptions for cigar bars, none for bingo halls and certainly not for casinos.

“Why should we exempt the Detroit casinos?” said Sen. Tom George (R–Kalamazoo). “Detroit has huge health problems.”

The city of Detroit is where a large portion of the state’s Medicaid dollars are spent, and George, one of the only two physicians on the Senate and the sponsor of the new bill, said a smoking ban would lower those costs.

But the new draft didn’t please many in the House who believe that an outright ban would diminish the casinos as revenue makers for the city of Detroit and the state, and the bill was stopped in the House, six votes short of the 56 needed.

“I know there are economic issues that many people feel are an issue, that we would be losing jobs if the casinos and Detroit were required to ban smoking,” said Rep. Pam Byrnes (D–Chelsea). “That’s what the argument is, that many people will get laid off, we will be losing jobs.”

The bill still sits on the House docket, waiting to be brought up again for a vote. It could likely be brought up in the next few months after the election, when lame-duck representatives no longer fear upsetting voters. But no matter the result of the next House vote, there is clearly momentum behind Michigan joining the 35 states that have enacted anti-smoking laws.

“I think it will pass eventually,” George said. “I just can’t tell you if it will be lame duck, or next year or the year after.”

In Ann Arbor, it’s uncertain how a ban of indoor smoking would be received. Many smaller bars and diners like Rendez Vous Café and Fleetwood Diner rely on a strong contingent of smoking customers who might choose to go elsewhere if comfortable indoor smoking is no longer an incentive.

Lance Binoniemi, executive director for the Michigan License Beverage Association, said indoor smoking bans have hurt small business in other states.

“We’ve seen in other states where bans have been taken into place where the smaller mom and pop restaurants have suffered greatly from smoking bans,” he said.

He said the loss in business would cause small businesses to cut jobs or hours.

“In this economic time period people can’t afford to have their hours cut or lose their jobs,” Binoniemi said. “Why would we do anything in the state that could create job loss?”

Rep. Rebekah Warren (D–Ann Arbor) believes a ban wouldn’t have a significant impact on local businesses.

“I think that most of the research is pretty clear that the places that have had smoking bans in place, it’s almost pretty predictable, they see a slight drop off when the bans are put into place, but after a couple of months the business actually increases,” she said.

Smaller businesses could make up the loss of revenue elsewhere, Warren said, by attracting an entirely new demographic.

“There’s a whole group of people, non-smokers, who actually won’t go to places if there’s smoking there,” she said.

The Fleetwood Diner, located on the corner of Ashley Street and Liberty Street, in a flimsy, tin-covered building that looks as if it’s been converted from a mobile home, is a late-night haven. The diner is known for it’s fabled meal, hippie hash — which consists of hash browns covered in feta, mushrooms and broccoli — its 24-7 hours and, probably most importantly, the fact that it’s one of the only all-night eateries in Ann Arbor that allows indoor smoking.

Fleetwood manager Aviva Woodward said it would be hard for the business to stay afloat if she couldn’t offer customers an ashtray.

“People come here every single day because they can smoke,” she said. “We had a couple customers who flat out said we don’t only come here for the food.”

Despite all of the health facts discouraging smoking, and all of the ways that Ann Arbor is a progressive place, it’s clear that many people here want to smoke. On their lunch break, they grab some quick food and smoke. Unwinding on the weekend, they purchase a case of beer and a pack of cigarettes. Or after the bars let out, they head over to Fleetwood to chow down on greasy food and smoke. None of these activities are particularly healthy, but they’re choices that are commonly made, and as people like Woodward say, should be completely the individual’s decision to make.

“A bar is not a health club,” she said. “(The government) needs to start, as far as I’m concerned, in that case, policing people’s drinking habits, maybe their sex lives — that can be unhealthy — they’re staying up way too late, so they should probably start closing bars earlier. Hanging out in the Fleetwood in general is bad. Maybe they should ban our food for that matter. We have a lot of grease.”

Opponents of the ban cite personal choice as their main argument — patrons can choose to eat somewhere else, employees can choose to work somewhere else and businesses could decide not to allow smoking. But while it is true that customers have the choice to dine at a particular bar or restaurant, employees don’t have the same range of freedom.

One of the main reasons Cohen hates to allow smoking in the Black Pearl is because he understands that in tough economic times his employees might not have much of a choice to work somewhere else. They take jobs where they can get them, regardless of what that means for their lungs.
Cohen has considered making his restaurant non-smoking even if the ban doesn’t pass, taking the risk of losing customers to look out for the health of his patrons and employees.

“Give me a year, and if the law doesn’t pass we may just do it,” Cohen said. “I would be willing to take a hit, for sure, but not a hit such that it would put me out of business.”

Cohen said he would take a survey of his customer base asking them how much they would mind if he did away with indoor smoking, and if he felt he could do it without sinking his business, he would.

But until that day comes there are still employees at his bar that don’t have a choice.

“I don’t like it, but it’s where the money is,” Black Pearl bartender Kiley Trupiano said. Trupiano, an LSA junior from Livonia, Mich., has been working at bars since she was 15, despite a history of smoking-related health issues.

At the age of 16, Trupiano went to the hospital because she was having trouble breathing. Her doctor asked if she smoked. Trupiano, who has never smoked a cigarette in her life, immediately called her mom, infuriated.

Trupiano’s mother had been smoking Virginia Slims since before her daughter was born, which was part of the reason that in high school, without ever having had a cigarette so much as touch her lips, Trupiano was diagnosed with asthma.

“I was mad,” she said, the memory making her emotional. “I was upset that she chose to smoke and to hurt her body but I get the effects of it.”

Trupiano had no idea she could get asthma from second-hand smoke, and, as a result, she has always steered clear of cigarettes. But, despite her personal experience with smoking, her reasons for supporting the ban come down to common courtesy rather than serious health risks.

“You come out to have a good dinner and enjoy your food, and if someone’s smoking next to you, you just get the taste of cigarette smoke,” she said. “So you’re having the perfect glass of wine with the perfect meal and some asshole next to you is smoking a cigarette and you can’t enjoy it.”

LSA senior Sky Lee is used to smoking inside — at friends’ houses, local bars and restaurants — but he understands why people would want it banished from public places.

Lee said that the inconvenience a ban would impose on him isn’t enough of a reason to oppose it.

“I’m not a very political person myself but I’m just speaking in the terms of, almost a moral sense,” Lee said, clicking his Zippo lighter with a flick of his wrist. “If they can respect the right for me to smoke outdoors, I think it’s my part to at least respect (them).”

Although he agreed with banning indoor smoking in, Lee said he would not support a law that extended the no-smoking zone to the area outside public places.

“Indoors, they can (ban smoking), as long as they don’t get in the way of my smoking outdoors,” he said.

The smoking population on campus ranges from once-in-a-blue-moon drunk puffers to students who have to step outside just to get through a three-hour class. But it’s irrefutable that smoking is still a part of college culture. Students of all stripes can be seen puffing in the Diag between classes or standing for a few minutes outside Mason Hall before they retreat back to the Fishbowl for hours of studying.

Those who steal a drag off their friends Marlboro Light outside Good Time Charley’s, the I-only-smoke-when-I-drink smokers who’ve never purchase their own pack, aren’t really smokers – they’re social smokers, and Ann Arbor is full of them.

But other students, like LSA sophomore Jessie Lipkowitz, are anything but social smokers.

“I have one when I wake up in the morning, have one in the afternoon, it’s part of my daily routine,” she said, sitting outside the UGLi with a fresh Parliament Full delicately placed between her fingers.

Lipkowitz, 19, picked up her first pack five years ago, and has been smoking ever since. “In the beginning I started smoking on a very social context,” she said, lighting the cigarette in her hand and taking the first long drag. “It’s terrible.”

Any student at the University must understand the health risks of smoking. They grew up in a decade when anti-smoking efforts brought posters showing grotesquely destroyed lungs and celebrities who poo-pooed smoking with lines like “kissing a smoker is like licking an ashtray.”

“I know smoking is inextricably linked to heart disease, lung cancer, emphysema. That is all true,” Engineering sophomore Matt Zielinski said. “But I still choose to smoke. “It’s just like drinking alcohol is linked to depression, liver problems. People still choose to drink alcohol. It’s a self-destructive behavior. (Smoking) is something I choose to do because of what I get out of it.”

Students say it’s the sense of community — cigarettes as conversation starters — or the chance to slow down — cigarettes as mini-rewards throughout a hectic day — that keep them puffing away.

“It definitely releases stress, too,” Zielinski said. “It’s a very intense, high-paced atmosphere and smoking a cigarette just calms you down.”

Lipkowitz and Zielinski, who both come from states that have already enacted smoking bans, believe that the decision to permit smoking should be left up to individual businesses.

“A private business should be able to decide whether or not it wants to allow smoking within its establishment,” Zielinski said. “It’s unconstitutional.”

But regardless of whether the ban passes, Zielinski and Lipkowitz don’t believe it will affect them much, they are used to not being able to smoke indoors.

Even if the state of Michigan passes a flat out ban, outlawing smoking in every establishment across the state, the smoking community would likely keep puffing away, just out in the cold. As the cigarette’s ubiquitous presence on campus shows, the desire to smoke runs deeper than government interference.

“I’ve made it a part of my lifestyle,” Lipkowitz said, flicking the last glowing embers of her cigarette to the ground. “I think walking around with a cigarette makes me feel more, well, me.”

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