HEALTH CARE: Bill to ban smoking in restaurants catches heat

LANSING – A burning question could be up for debate this legislative session: Should smoking be banned in all Michigan restaurants?

Rep. Ray Bashum, D-Taylor, has drafted legislation with both Democratic and Republican co-sponsors that would ban smoking in restaurants and food service establishments.

“This is the right thing to do in Michigan,” Basham said. “Other states have done it and we need to have a good bipartisan debate on the issue.”

Opponents of the bill, including the Michigan Restaurant Association, believe restaurants should have the choice whether to go smoke free or not.

“The market is taking care of itself as seen in the 23 percent increase per year in smoke- free restaurants across Michigan,” said Bill Zaagman, director of government affairs for the MRA. “Non-smokers have plenty of options with 2,800 smoke-free restaurants across the state.”

Stan Drossart, owner of the Cottage Café in Traverse City, said the bill would definitely affect his business if passed because they also serve liquor.

Basham said the proposal is aimed at establishments whose business is mainly food service.

“I expect lots of amendments and will work with legislators on these. This bill is not aimed at bars, but those establishments who do 70 to 80 percent of their business in food. Because adults can choose, kids can’t,” Basham said.

Steve Springer of the American Lung Association of Michigan, said that this legislation would also be beneficial to restaurant employees.

“In other jobs workers wear goggles, boots or even a respirator for protection, but people who are exposed to second-hand smoke are not protected.”

Ge Ku, owner of Golden Chopsticks in Traverse City, said her health has improved since going smoke free a couple years ago. “It has been great for us, I am allergic to smoke and there has been no coughing since,” she said.

Zaagman said that going smoke-free will cause a drop in business, especially to those businesses that cater to smoking.

“Overall, gross sales may not go down, but sales will go down at restaurants that cater to smokers. They will simply stay home or order carry out.”

Drossart believes he will see a decrease in business unless all businesses are forced to go smoke free.

Ku said that they haven’t seen a change in business since switching. “There hasn’t been a drop in business, we’ve stayed the same and with only one complaint.”

Basham hopes to see his legislation get out of the Health Policy Committee this session. “Michigan is the fourth worst state in the country as far as adult smoking and I feel I have a role to play as a legislator.”

A decision is expected any day from the Michigan Circuit Court that could decide whether the state or local governments can ban smoking in restaurants.

The City of Marquette has attempted to ban smoking in their restaurants but was sued by the MRA. A decision is expected any day on the city’s appeal. BN