Traverse City Record-Eagle

December 8, 2013

Editorial: Outside smoking exposes workers to danger


Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — They’re back, and with the same, tired arguments that didn’t work more than three years ago — and likely won’t work again.

State Rep. Tom McMillin, a Rochester Hills Republican who is eyeing a run for the state Senate, has introduced legislation that would roll back a provision of Michigan’s smoking ban to allow smokers to light up at outdoor seating for bars and restaurants.

Listening to McMillin is like taking a step back in time to before the state Legislature adopted a ban on smoking in bars, restaurants and most workplaces in 2010.

Many business owners, McMillin thunders — note that he doesn’t claim this is his view — say the smoking ban is “blatant over-regulation and usurping the rights of business owners to make their own rules on their own property.”

Wow. Sounds pretty Founding Fathers, doesn’t it? As if making your own rules on your own property is some sort of inalienable right.

That may sound pretty righteous until you start making people sick. Employees and customers have the right to not be exposed to secondhand cigarette smoke, which is a proven carcinogen. No one has a right to expose someone else to a known cause of cancer or any other disease.

Bar and restaurant owners have to follow public health laws to protect patrons from getting sick because their food has been improperly stored or prepared. They have to clean their restrooms, tables and silverware. And no, they can’t expose the people who work for them or who come into their place of business to a cancer-causing substance, be it second-hand smoke or mercury.

Employees and patrons have an expectation that when they enter a workplace or place of business they are not taking their lives into their hands. There are minimum health rules, and protecting people from second-hand smoke is one of them.

So will allowing smoking outside offer sufficient protections? If you’re a server standing upwind from a smoker in a stiff breeze and don’t have to empty his ashtray, there may be a reduced chance of inhaling some second-hand smoke. But don’t believe for a second that servers, in the course of doing their jobs on a crowded outdoor deck, won’t get a face full of smoke from time to time.

McMillin may be blowing a little smoke here himself. Though he says he is a non-smoker, McMillin and some supporters planned to gather recently at a cigar bar in Rochester to smoke, talk up the bill and raise money for McMillin’s senate run. And a press release quoting a former chairman of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce who supports the bill was emailed by Friends of Tom McMillin, a campaign group.

Michigan residents (75 percent of whom supported the smoking bans) and lawmakers have spoken, and will again if they have to. If McMillin’s senate bid has as much chance as his pro-smoking bill, he may as well stay home.