MI lawmakers edge closer to possible smoking ban

AP News
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Posted: Dec 07, 2009 3:12 PM

A statewide smoking ban that has stalled for years in the Legislature could be in place by Christmas.

A Senate committee this week could take up a bill that would ban smoking in all workplaces. The ban would include all restaurants and bars, but could exempt casino floors and cigar bars.

Republican Sen. Ron Jelinek of Three Oaks is hoping to push through a compromise soon.

"Most legislators want to get it done," Jelinek said. "The major discrepancy now is either total ban or ban with exceptions. ... We'll see what flies."

Opponents want the decision left up to individual business owners. Lance Binoniemi of the Michigan Licensed Beverage Association says if a ban is passed, it shouldn't have exceptions that "pick winners and losers" by exempting casinos.

"We're urging lawmakers that if they're going to do something, they should make it fair to everyone," he said Monday. "They're creating a competitive advantage" for the three Detroit casinos if they don't include them in the ban.

A state ban on workplace smoking flamed out during the 2007-08 session when the Democrat-led House passed a ban that would exempt casinos and smoke shops while the Republican-led Senate approved a full ban with no exceptions, and no compromise was reached. The House passed similar exemptions in May, but the Senate until now had not taken up a smoking bill this year.

Some Detroit lawmakers say the ban shouldn't apply to the three Detroit casinos because it would push business to tribal casinos, which wouldn't have to abide by the ban because tribes are considered sovereign under federal law.

But some Detroit bar and restaurant owners say letting the casinos have smoking on the betting floor, even if it's banned in casino restaurants and hotels, will hurt them because patrons won't want to have to stand outside in Michigan's cold winter weather to smoke if they could stay inside the casino and have a cigarette or cigar.

Most health advocates don't want any exemptions because they say work place smoke is unhealthy for everyone. But they realize a total ban may not have enough votes to pass.

However, if a ban stalls again, there likely will be an effort to put a ban on the ballot next year.

Michigan currently is one of only about a dozen states with few restrictions on smoking, whether in government buildings or bars and restaurants, according to the American Lung Association. Among nearby states, only Indiana doesn't have some type of smoking ban in place.