Arguing that second-hand smoke presents a serious health risk, state Sen. Ray Basham (D-Taylor) submitted a bill to the Legislature last week, intending to ban smoking from Michigan restaurants.

Shabina Khatri
Rendez Vous Cafe, on South University Street, is one of the few restaurants on campus that allows patrons to smoke inside.

The bill would apply to all institutions serving food – except bowling alleys, private clubs and drinking establishments where food sales comprise less than 30 percent of revenues. Although the legislation is currently in committee, Basham expects to initiate action on the bill soon to send it to floor debate.

As evidence for the need to ban restaurant smoking, Basham cited a 2001 study by the Michigan Department of Community Health that found second-hand smoke kills up to 1,900 non-smokers each year in Michigan.

“I think (the elimination of smoking in restaurants) saves lives and it also protects those folks with asthma attacks who have to leave in the middle of a meal,” Basham said. “The smoker’s rights end when the smoke goes up the non-smoker’s nose.”

Seventy percent of Michigan residents are non-smokers, Basham said, and he expects most residents of Michigan to support the bill. He added that many cities in Michigan, such as Marquette, have tried to pass similar ordinances but were struck down in court. Basham said his bill would not meet the same failure because these courts determined that the state Legislature is the only instrument of government that can regulate Michigan restaurants.

“This is where it should be debated. Not in the counties or city councils, but in the Legislature,” Basham said.

Basham further argued that since the Legislature can mandate many standards for restaurants, such as the size of parking lots and the arrangement of shrubbery, the Legislature also has sufficient authority to ban smoking in the businesses.

Despite his efforts to move the bill to floor debate, Basham said he found little support from other legislators, and blamed lobbyists for deterring the government from acting in accordance with the will of its constituents. “There’s a lot of special interest,” Basham said. “Certainly the (Michigan) Restaurant Association does not want the bill heard. You’d think that the consumer interest would also be heard.”

Bill Zaagmar, director of government affairs for the Restaurant Association, said his organization opposes the bill because it would interfere with the natural market adjustment to consumer demand.

“We believe that this is a marketplace issue,” he said. “Operators should have flexibility to accommodate smokers if they want to.”

In defense of restaurant autonomy in determining smoking designation, Zaagmar noted that about 3,000 restaurants in Michigan have already banned smoking from their premises. He also indicated that although the law currently allows a restaurant to allot up to 50 percent of their seating to smokers, most only use about 10 percent.

Zaagmar added that since the Legislature has already addressed the regulation of restaurant smoking, the body could not make additional requirements.

“In our opinion, the Legislature has already spoken on this issue,” he said.

Additionally, Zaagmar said that the development of technology has taken great strides in removing second-hand smoke from non-smoking areas in restaurants, emphasizing the advancements in air ventilation.

“Most new restaurants that are being built from the ground up have technology that is eliminating the problems of tobacco smoke,” he said.

Richard Rhibar, manager of Creekside Grill and Bar on Jackson Road, was reluctant to take a stand on the bill. “I don’t know if it’s going to affect our business or not, so it’s a tough decision,” he said.

But he compared the elimination of smoking to the prohibition of alcohol in the 1920s, predicting similar ineffectiveness for the new resolution.

But many students offered their support for the bill. Business senior Chantel McEldowney said she approves of the bill because it does not entirely eliminate the options of smokers.

“There’s just so many other places you can smoke,” she said. “If they can control all that other stuff, then I don’t see why they would draw the line at smoking, which is a bigger issue than where the trees are planted.”

But LSA senior Matt Ross said the legislation was an infringement on the individual rights of smokers. “Smoking is a decision that people make by themselves,” he said. “It’s that person’s problem and the state should have no role in limiting it.”

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