May 22 • 10:16 AM

Some huff, puff at ban

Health advocates, non-smokers hail new law for environmental benefits

Twin sisters Paulette Johnson and Paula Proctor pull no punches when it comes to their opinions about the smoking ban. They don’t like it. photo by Tom Wearing.

April 14, 2010
TRI-CITY AREA — In a little more than two weeks, reality strikes for thousands of local residents formerly allowed to smoke in public establishments.

The statewide ban on smoking in workplaces, restaurants and bars takes effect on May 1, making Michigan the 38th state to establish an indoor smoking ban.

From a purely health perspective, the benefits of the smoking ban are being hailed. Health advocates point out that secondhand smoke is the third-leading cause of preventable death in Michigan.

Health issues aside, local bar, club and restaurant owners are left to deal with enforcing the new law and the consequences of failing to do so.

Krume and Diane Gavrilovski, owners of the Silver Grill in Imlay City, have been providing a smoking section for customers. That luxury comes to an abrupt end on May 1.

"We have some customers that are not happy about it," says Krume. "But we can't do anything about the law. I do think it will be a cleaner atmosphere and better for health reasons."

Silver Grill customer Paula Proctor, 55, of Lapeer, is adamantly opposed to the ban.

"One of the reasons we started coming here is because the restaurants in Lapeer have already banned smoking," says Paula. "It should be up to the business owners if they want to offer smoking or not.

"The problem is that the people in power are going to do what they want," she says. "We keep losing all of our rights."

LeAnna Baxter, a bartender at Imlay City's Front Row, says the ban comes at a particularly bad time for businesses struggling to survive.

"The economy is bad enough as it is," she says. "This is only going to make things worse. Many of our non-smokers don't think it's right either."

Smoker Jon Johnson believes the ban unfairly singles out a specific segment of the population.

"If they're going to ban smoking, they should have a ban against drinking, too," says Johnson. "I see drunk drivers on the roads all the time. That's a lot bigger hazard than smoking."

Diane Gavrilovski says it remains somewhat unclear about who will enforce the ban, though she expects it will be left up to business owners.

"I think it's going to effect the bars even more," she says. "I just wonder when the government intervention is going to stop."

On Monday, Allenton resident Mary Ebner, 60, was seated in the non-smoking section at Tietz's Restaurant in Imlay City. While not opposed to smoking, she feels the ban will benefit those with asthma or other breathing problems

"As I get older, the smoke is starting to bother me," Ebner says. "My nose can tell immediately if there is a smoker in the area. It (the ban) will be a comfort to long as they don't go any further. A smoker should still be able to smoke outside or in the home."

Fellow Tietz's diner Diane Sawgle, 61, agrees. A former smoker who kicked the habit a decade ago, Sawgle now appreciates non-smoking environments.

"I notice the smoke more now than I used to," says Sawgle. "When I walk in a restaurant that has smoking, I can smell it right away."

According to the Michigan Dept. of Community Health, businesses can be ticketed with fines of up to $100 for a first offense and up to $500 for additional offenses. Establishments that continue to break the law could lose their licenses.

Mitch Caskey, Lapeer County's Director of Environmental Health, anticipates there will be an adjustment period, but he's confident most establishments will fall into compliance.

"Our mission right now is to get the word out to the public," says Caskey. "So far everyone we've talked to intends to follow the law. This is a workplace law, which was already being applied to areas where food is handled."

Caskey says business owners will have to share in the responsibility of enforcing the ban, in concert with routine health department inspections.

"Business owners will be required to post no-smoking signs and remove all ash trays and matches," Caskey says. "They will then inform customers who break the law to either not smoke or not be served."

Caskey says that based on states and cities where bans have been implemented, there is typically a six-month adjustment period.

"It takes that long for people to get comfortable with it," he says. "Generally speaking, everyone comes into compliance within about a year."

Caskey notes there is a "grassroots effort" by some veterans organizations and social clubs seeking exemption from the ban.

"So far that has only reached the discussion stage," he says. "I don't know if there is anyone (in government) that wants to get behind that."

Tom Wearing started at the Tri-City Times in 1989, covering the Village of Capac as a beat reporter. He later served stints as assistant editor and editor. Today, he covers Imlay City and Almont as a staff writer. He enjoys music and plays drums and sings with various musical groups in the Detroit Metropolitan area.
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