Smoke-free workplace: GT County won’t pass regulation without support

TRAVERSE CITY – Lack of political support and serious funding concerns may get in the way of a smoke-free workplace ordinance being considered by Grand Traverse County.

While county commissioner Herb Lemcool is in favor of such a regulation, he speculates that the ordinance, similar to one just passed by neighboring communities, is unlikely to pass in Grand Traverse County, at least anytime soon.

As of July 14, Antrim, Charlevoix, Emmet, and Otsego counties banned smoking in all public and private workplaces and public buildings, including business-owned or leased vehicles. People can smoke in a home business unless it provides health services, childcare, or adult day care. State law excludes restaurants, bars, tobacco shops, hotels, motels, and American Indian-owned casinos from such bans (see sidebar pg. 29).

Re-ignited issue

The political climate for such an ordinance in Grand Traverse County is different, according to Lemcool.

"I really don't see it happening," says Lemcool, who is the commission's appointee to the county's Tobacco-Free Coalition, adding that support for such a regulation has been hard to come by. "People don't seem to think that they should be regulating people's lives to that extent."

This is not the first time the county has discussed a workplace ban on smoking over the last few years, and according to meeting minutes, "tobacco-related issues" have come up seven times since 2004.

Surveys, including one by the Tobacco-Free Coalition last year, showed that an overwhelming number of respondents already had a policy regulating smoking in the workplace.

"There is not a groundswell of support from the community as far as the commissioners are concerned," says Lemcool, adding that without that support, they won't pass a smoke-free workplace regulation.

Where The Money's (not) At

Politics aside, the coalition is also facing a serious funding issue, specifically the loss of $14,000 from the state to fund the coalition's coordinator position. The last coordinator recently retired and the position has not been filled and is only funded through the state's current fiscal year, which ends September 30.

"I wouldn't want an ordinance passed and not have the funds to be able to enforce it," says Fred Keeslar, county health department director.

At a Human Services committee meeting last month, Keeslar painted a bleak financial picture.

"There is a funding issue going into this," he told the group. "We're in a holding pattern," he added, until the legislature approves the 2006 budget.

But even when the legislature does pass the budget, money for tobacco-related services, as well as $60,000 it receives for child vision and hearing screening, isn't expected to be there.

Keeslar has been gathering costs associated with implementation and enforcement of the ordinance from the counties who already have it in place, but since most of the ordinances are relatively new, there isn't a lengthy financial paper trail.

Still, based on figures he's received, Keeslar is hanging a $30,000 price tag on the proposed regulation for the first year to get it up and running.

"It's eight to 12 months of intense work with businesses and industries," says Keeslar, adding that thorough education leads to very few violations or legal challenges. After that first year, the hours needed to enforce the ordinance could be cut in half and so, too, could the cost.

Lemcool says one of his top priorities is seeing to it that the tobacco coalition continues to receive funding so it can carry on its important work in the community. The group is currently working on efforts to increase its presence with the public and boost awareness of its goals.

Keeslar points out that the group has received great volunteer cooperation from restaurants to go smoke-free and the county has a high rate of non-smoking establishments in the food service and lodging industries.

Bans Across the State

Ten Michigan counties and the City of Marquette have smoke-free workplace ordinances and eight of those passed within the last year, Antrim, Emmet, Charlevoix and Antrim, plus Chippewa, Genesse, Marquette, and Wayne. Washtenaw County passed a similar ordinance in 2003, Ingham County in 2002, and the City of Marquette in 1999.

"It is a policy decision," Keeslar says, adding that the health department doesn't have a formal opinion about a possible smoking ordinance from the board. "I feel it's a question of whether the county wants to get into that type of regulation," he adds.

The Northwest Michigan Community Health Agency, which serves Antrim, Charlevoix, Emmet, and Otsego counties, requested the ban that was approved by all four county boards.

"Virtually all of the feedback has been positive," says Jane Sundmacher, health agency spokeswoman. "This is about protecting the non-smoker and saving lives."

According to a survey the agency conducted with the American Cancer Society, more than 70 percent of the businesses in the four counties already have smoke-free restrictions in place. Additionally, 80 percent of respondents in the four-county district favor workplace smoking restrictions whether they smoke or not. Those businesses that don't have restrictions, Sundmacher adds, are primarily small manufacturing shops and some laundromats.

Cigarettes are classified as a Class A carcinogen by the Environmental Protection Agency.

"If it was any other chemical, it would be cracked down on immediately," Sundmacher says. The agency estimates that 25 non-smokers in the 4-county area die from second-hand smoke every year, including children.

However, the health agency is facing a legal challenge by three men who live in Charlevoix and Antrim counties. The suit claims that both governmental entities operated outside of their power in passing the ordinance.

"Their beef is with limited government exceeding its authority," says Samuel Frederick, an East Lansing attorney representing the men. "They want to keep local government in check." He added that one of the three men is a non-smoker.

The Grand Traverse County Board of Commissioners has no immediate plans to put a smoke-free workplace regulation to a vote and is welcoming feedback related to a possible ban down the road.


Michigan's smoking exemption for bars & restaurants

After the City of Marquette passed its smoke-free workplace regulation in 1999 it was challenged in court. The courts ruled that language in a portion of the Michigan Public Health Code (MCL 333.12915 (1982 PA 526)) overrides any local regulation calling for 100 percent smoke-free seating in bars and restaurants. Unless this part of the Public Health Code is changed, no local regulation can prohibit smoking in bars and restaurants.

Source: Molly Cotant, public health consultant for the tobacco section of the Michigan Department of Community Health.

WOULD YOU SUPPORT A WORKPLACE SMOKING BAN? WHY OR WHY NOT? Send your name, business name and response to The results will appear in the Oct. issue.