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May 13, 2012

Forum: Smoke-free workplace law is working

Detractors of the Dr. Ron Davis Smoke Free Air Law would have us believe the law is having a negative impact on Michigan. Nothing can be further from the truth. These critics are not taking the total picture into account.

They point to individual bars or restaurants that may currently be struggling. Regrettably, this is a volatile industry where three out of five establishments close or change hands within the first three years of business. In today's economy it's not hard to find a bar or restaurant that's struggling; and it is the current economy that is the biggest challenge to the hospitality industry.

To claim the smoke-free air law is a significant factor in these business challenges is unrealistic. The truth is people are still going to restaurants and bars now that they're smoke-free. And they enjoy them more. According to the Department of Treasury, during the first year of the law retail eating and drinking establishments saw an increase in total sales by more than 6 percent over the previous year.

In a poll conducted in May of 2011, 74 percent of likely or active registered voters polled favored the smoke-free law. That number was 8 percent higher than the previous poll taken in 2009 before the law passed. This growth in favorability is not surprising considering the fact that the majority of Michiganders do not smoke (about 81 percent).

Additional research shows that the law is working in ways that may not be readily apparent to the average person. Eighty-five percent of restaurants studied had poor to dangerous air quality prior to the law. After the law was passed, 93 percent of these restaurants registered air quality that was good to very good.

At the same time, a study of the health of employees showed decreases in six categories of respiratory symptoms and a significant decrease in cotinine (a chemical found in urine that measures exposure to second-hand smoke) in the bodies of workers. These are the true signs that the law is working just fine for Michigan.

It's important to remember that the law's original intent was to protect workers' health. It's been shown time and again that healthy workplaces are good for a state's economy by reducing costs associated with tobacco-related illnesses.

The recent attempts to amend the Dr. Ron Davis Smoke Free Air Law are nothing more than thinly veiled attempts to undo it altogether. To the 74 percent who favor the law "¦ don't be fooled. The road to progress and a recovery for Michigan is not lined with ashtrays and cigarette butts at your corner tavern.

Our future lies with smart decisions based on fact, not political rhetoric. We need to act like a 21st century state and leverage every opportunity to make Michigan a better and safer place to live.

Our smoke-free workplace law is a step in the right direction.

Lawmakers, listen to your constituents. Preserve the integrity of the Dr. Ron Davis Smoke Free Air Law.

About the author: Dr. William J. Mayer, holds a Master of Public Health degree and is a board member of the American Cancer Society, Great Lakes Division, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, is vice president and Chief Quality Officer of Bronson Heathcare Group and director of Strategy and Business Development for Family Health Center of Battle Creek.

About the forum: The forum is a periodic column of opinion written by Record-Eagle readers in their areas of interest or expertise. Submissions of 500 words or less may be made by emailing letters@record-eagle.com. Please include biographical information and a photo.

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