Traverse City Record-Eagle

Generation Why

May 4, 2010

Smoking ban: Constitution up in smoke

New legislation compromises our right to choose

TRAVERSE CITY — After years of bickering over the specifications of the smoking ban, all Michigan businesses are now required to prohibit it. This new legislation that forces numerous bars and restaurants to reconsider their business model will likely put some out of business.

In high school, students learn about a relatively famous document called "the Constitution." In this 223-year-old document, the rights of every citizen are canonized: liberty, property and the freedom of choice are clearly defined.

Under constitutional law, every citizen over the age of 18 has the right to smoke and every citizen has the right to own a private business without significant government intervention. Michigan legislators either missed the civics course or just didn't read the Constitution. Or maybe they didn't quite understand it; there are some pretty big words.

Among the heretofores and self-evident truths, freedom is most clearly defined by the ability to choose. Fully aware of the consequences of smoking, smokers choose to light up; it is their right to do so. Likewise, private business owners have the right and should be left to their own choices regarding smoking on their premises.

Similarly, restaurant patrons and employees have every right to forgo smoking-friendly institutions for smoke-free establishments.

This smoking ban marks more than a restriction on the freedom of citizens.

To avoid potential economic impact, three Detroit casinos chose to retain lobbyists who did their job well; the casinos are exempt from the ban. The economic repercussions were apparently discarded for the rest of the privately owned, but likely smaller businesses in places less populous than Detroit. As one of the most economically challenged states in America, one would think legislators could spend a little more time fixing the current economic situation and less time squabbling over a smoking ban that forces customers from already stressed Michigan businesses.

As the state with the highest unemployment rate, Michigan businesses need customers now more than ever. However, with the ban, restaurant and bar owners will undoubtedly witness a significant drop in customers as smokers opt to stay home instead, where their habit is legal (for now, at least).

"They are going to buy their six-pack and take it home where they can smoke," Bob's Sports Bar owner Dick Beattie said.

Legislators could have at least leveled the playing field for every Michigan business, rather than making exceptions for particular casinos. Laws are meant to be universal, with no special treatment for business owners with thick wallets.

With more than 6,000 Michigan businesses already smoke-free, establishments should be free to make their own decisions on smoking inside their doors. At most, businesses should only need a sign demonstrating their smoking protocol, such as "This is a smoke-friendly establishment." Until the stars on the flag turn to sickles, private businesses should remain under private jurisdiction.

But for now, at least the economy will see a boost in outdoor ashtray purchases.

Jacob Runkel is business manager and illustrator of The Black & Gold at Traverse City Central Senior High School.

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