A proposal to ban smoking in all public indoor establishments in Ingham County just plain stinks.
The Ingham County Board of Commissioners will hold a public hearing on the proposal at its 7 p.m. meeting today.
The American Lung Association of Michigan has asked area city councils to support the measure, which was created out of concern for the health of workers and nonsmokers. According to the association, secondhand smoke kills 53,000 nonsmokers every year and is the third leading cause of death in the United States.
Although the number of nonsmokers with smoke-related deaths is high, other measures could be implemented to remove secondhand smoke without banning smoking from businesses.
Patrons expect to smoke in bars and nonsmokers enter these establishments with the knowledge that they will be in a smoke-filled environment. Everyone is aware of the harmful effects of smoking, and if a customer is bothered by the smoke, plenty of other businesses offer smoke-free atmospheres.
By informing customers of their smoking policy, restaurants could help reduce the number of smoke-related deaths.
The proposal, if approved, will have a devastating effect on area business. Smokers would take their business to bars in nearby counties where they would be allowed to light up. It is unfair for Ingham County bars to have to compete with nearby establishments that allow smoking.
Also, a measure like this should be handled at the state level. County lines are not clear enough for people to realize they are in a nonsmoking section of the state.
Nonsmokers have plenty of options. Almost all restaurants offer smoke-free dining, and many already are completely smoke-free. Smoking is not an illegal activity, and business owners should be allowed to make the decision on whether to allow smokers in their establishments.
To keep both workers and customers happy, businesses that allow smoking should have better ventilation to help keep their atmosphere as clean as possible and keep smokers as separated from nonsmokers as possible.
Also, just as nonsmokers have plenty of restaurants to choose from, workers in smoky establishments are not forced to work there. The money earned by a bartender or waitress might beat working somewhere smoke-free, but workers need to choose between their health or money.
Smokers are paying customers, and the more paying customers a bartender or waitress serves, the more money he or she would make.
These workers should be aware, though, of the effect of hours spent breathing in secondhand smoke. In a University of California at San Francisco study of 53 city barkeepers, three quarters of them experienced health ailments such as coughing and shortness of breath.
Most jobs involve some health risk and bar and restaurant owners have the responsibility to fully explain the risk of breathing in secondhand smoke to potential employees. Workers have the right to decide whether this negative outweighs the other positive aspects of the job.
But this decision is up to the workers. It is also up to customers to decide whether or not to visit businesses that permit smoking. It is not a decision for the board to decide.